Archive for happiness

What Would You Do If You Knew You Couldn’t Fail?

It’s 2023 and time to start the year with a fresh perspective.

So I ask you these three simple questions:

  1. What would you do if you knew you could not fail and those around you would wholeheartedly support you?
  2. Are you doing it?
  3. If not, then why?

Think about it …

If your reason for not doing something is that you’re afraid of failing or being judged … how much worse would that be than never having tried?

It’s better to do something imperfectly than to do nothing perfectly. Share on X

Make 2023 your year of personal leadership growth.

Do you have a goal you want to reach in 2023—either career-related or personal? Is there something you want to improve or change that’s been gnawing at you for years?

What’s holding you back? Where are you stuck? Why haven’t you been successful in the past? Have you ever considered working with a leadership coach?

Who exactly seeks out a coach? Leaders who want even more out of life.

Not sure if coaching is for you? Check out my coaching services. I will help you become clear on what you want, develop action plans, stay committed to your goals and live intentionally. With coaching certifications from the International Coaches Federation and The Coaches Training Institute, I am also skilled in organizational and relationship systems coaching—working with teams in small to large organizations.

As your coach, I will hold you accountable—and that’s a good thing because statistics show coached people are seven times more likely to follow through on their plans.

I have two openings for coaching clients now, so call me at 541.601.0114 or email me and let’s start a conversation (complimentary). Here’s to a great 2023!

Rewire Your Brain for Happiness: Why What You Think About Is What You Think About

This time of year, I’m reminded of the connection between gratitude and happiness and the need to get more of both. I’ve noticed people tend to spend more time focusing on what is wrong and not enough about what is right in their lives.

For some people, it’s their job. People in professions like tax accounting, auditing, and law may be even more focused on the wrong—the mistakes—because that’s what they are trained and paid to do: to find the wrong and fix it.

What happens when we focus on what’s wrong more than what’s right? Harvard researcher Shawn Achor calls it the Tetris Effect. I call it “What You Think About Is What You Think About.” Granted, Shawn’s title is catchier, but mine is more descriptive.

Four years ago, a Google search for gratitude + happiness yielded 14.6 million results. This month, the same search yielded 25.8 million results. That’s 11.2 million more instances of gratitude + happiness online. Now that in itself is something I’m grateful for, and it makes me happy. That means more people discussing, researching, writing about and considering the combination of gratitude and happiness at reputable institutions such as The New York Times, Harvard, Psychology Today and Forbes.

In a research study, 27 Harvard students were paid to play the videogame Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row. In the following days, the students reported they couldn’t stop seeing the Tetris shapes everywhere they looked. Their brains kept trying to rearrange everything—from buildings and trees on the landscape to cereal boxes on the shelf in the grocery store—to form a solid line so as to advance to the next level of the videogame. They couldn’t stop seeing the world as sequences of Tetris blocks!

This is caused by a natural physical process that actually changes the wiring of the brain. These new neural pathways warped the way these students viewed real-life situations. When people are focused on something—anything—their brains adapt and hone in on those circumstances and events.

A tax accountant may be terrific at her job, but when she brings her way of looking at the world home, she will miss seeing all the good in her life and may be on the road to depression. The same goes for the great attorney, who may be terrific in court but not so much at home, where family members feel like they are participants in a deposition.

Think about what you think about. When you notice something good happening, really notice it. Relish it. The more you can take notice, the more you will begin to see. Revisit my blog post What Went Well to learn a great technique for boosting your awareness and gratitude for the happy moments in life.


Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principals of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York, NY: Crown Publishing Group.

10 Things Happy People Do Differently … What Do YOU Do Differently?

Chris Cook with Friends and Colleagues

“Happiness is having a large, caring, close-knit family in another city.” —George Burns

I love reading other happiness researchers’ findings, and this article by Paula Davis-Laack resonates with me. While you are reading it, think about how it relates to you. What’s true, and what’s not? What else is there for you? I am curious!

To illustrate this post, I’m using a photo of me with a few of my “tribe.” This was taken during our first evening together after starting a fast-track coaches training program at CTI last March. Love them!

Thanks to my friend Anne Golden for forwarding this to me. References follow.

Here we go!

How happy are you and why? This is a question I spend a fair amount of time thinking about, not only as it applies to my own levels of happiness, but also as it applies to my family, friends, and the people who I work with. Since graduating with my master’s degree in positive psychology, I’ve worked with and observed thousands of people in a wide variety of settings, and happy people just flow with the groove of life in a unique way. Here is what they do differently:

They build a strong social fabric. Happy people stay connected to their families, neighbors, places of worship, and communities. These strong connections act as a buffer to depression and create strong, meaningful connections. The rate of depression has increased dramatically in the last 50 to 75 years. The World Health Organization predicts that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of mortality in the world, impacting nearly one-third of all adults. While several forces are likely behind this increase, one of the most important factors may be the disconnection from people and their families and communities.

They engage in activities that fit their strengths, values, and lifestyle. One size does not fit all when it comes to happiness strategies. You tailor your workout to your specific fitness goals—happy people do the same thing with their emotional goals. Some strategies that are known to promote happiness are just too corny for me, but the ones that work best allow me to practice acts of kindness, express gratitude, and become fully engaged. Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky offers a wonderful “Person-Activity Fit Diagnostic” in her book The How of Happiness.

They practice gratitude. Gratitude does the body good. It helps you cope with trauma and stress, increases self-worth and self-esteem when you realize how much you’ve accomplished, and often helps dissolve negative emotions. Research also suggests that the character strength of gratitude is a fairly strong correlate with life satisfaction.[1]

They have an optimistic thinking style. Happy people rein in their pessimistic thinking in three ways. First, they focus their time and energy on where they have control. They know when to move on if certain strategies aren’t working or if they don’t have control in a specific area. Second, they know that “this too shall pass.” Happy people “embrace the suck” and understand that while the ride might be bumpy at times, it won’t last forever. Finally, happy people are good at compartmentalizing. They don’t let an adversity in one area of their life seep over into other areas of their life.

They know it’s good to do good. Happy people help others by volunteering their time. Research shows a strong association between helping behavior and well-being, health, and longevity. Acts of kindness help you feel good about yourself and others, and the resulting positive emotions enhance your psychological and physical resilience. One study followed five women who had multiple sclerosis over a three-year period of time.[2] These women volunteered as peer supporters for 67 other MS patients. The results showed that the five peer support volunteers experienced positive changes that were larger than the benefits shown by the patients they supported.

They know that material wealth is only a very small part of the equation. Happy people have a healthy perspective about how much joy material possessions will bring. In The How of Happiness, Lyubomirsky explains that in 1940, Americans reported being “very happy” with an average score of 7.5 out of 10.[3] Fast forward to today, and with all of our iPods, color TVs, computers, fast cars, and an income that has more than doubled, what do you think our average happiness score is today? It’s 7.2. Not only does materialism not bring happiness, it’s a strong predictor of unhappiness. One study examined the attitudes of 12,000 freshman when they were eighteen, then measured their life satisfaction at age 37. Those who had expressed materialistic aspirations as freshmen were less satisfied with their lives two decades later.[4]

They develop healthy coping strategies. Happy people encounter stressful life adversities, but they have developed successful coping strategies. Post-traumatic growth is the positive personal changes that result from an individual’s struggle to deal with highly challenging life events, and it occurs in a wide range of people facing a wide variety of challenging circumstances. According to researchers Tedeschi and Calhoun, there are five factors or areas of growth after a challenging event: renewed appreciation for life, recognizing new paths for your life, enhanced personal strength, improved relationships with others, and spiritual growth. Happy people become skilled at seeing the good that might come from challenging times.

They focus on health. Happy people take care of their mind and body and manage their stress. Focusing on your health, though, doesn’t just mean exercising. Happy people actually act like happy people. They smile, are engaged, and bring an optimal level of energy and enthusiasm to what they do.

They cultivate spiritual emotions. According to Lyubomirsky, there is a growing body of science suggesting that religious people are happier, healthier, and recover more quickly from trauma than nonreligious people.[5] In addition, authors Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener explain in their book Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth that spiritual emotions are essential to psychological wealth and happiness because they help us connect to something larger than ourselves.

They have direction. Working toward meaningful life goals is one of the most important strategies happy people utilize. I downplayed the importance of meaning during my law practice, but it became evident how much meaning mattered in my life when I burned out. Happy people have values that they care about and outcomes that are worth working for, according to Diener and Biswas-Diener.

The late, great Dr. Chris Peterson talked about his own journey with happiness as follows: “I spent my young adult years postponing many of the small things that I knew would make me happy … I was fortunate enough to realize that I would never have the time unless I made the time. And then the rest of my life began.”

Happy people have developed a specific set of strategies over time that causes them to see life differently—a balanced portfolio of skills and emotions. What would you add to this list?

(Tell me what YOU do! I’ll do the same.)

Paula Davis-Laack, JD, MAPP, is an internationally known writer and stress and resilience expert who helps high-achievers manage stress and increase well-being by mastering a set of skills proven to enhance resilience, build mental toughness and promote strong relationships. 


[1] Park, N., Peterson, C., & Seligman, M.E.P. (2004). “Strengths of character and well-being.” Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, 23(5), 603–619.

[2] Schwarz, C.E., & Sendor, M. (1999). “Helping others help oneself: Response shift effects in peer support.” Social Science and Medicine, 48, 1563–75.

[3] Lane, R.E. (2000). The loss of happiness in market democracies. New Haven: Yale University Press. See Figure 1.1, p.5.

[4] Nickerson, C., Schwartz, N., Diener, E., & Kahneman, D. (2003). “Zeroing in on the dark side of the American dream: A closer look at the negative consequences of the goal for financial success.”Psychological Science, 14, 531–36.

[5] Ellison, C.G., & Levin, J.S. (1998). “The religion-health connection: Evidence, theory, and future directions.” Health Education and Behavior, 25, 700–20.

This Year, Retrain Your Brain! Give Yourself the Happiness Advantage.

Why not start the year with an empty jar and fill it with notes about good things that happen—as they happen? Then on New Year’s Eve, empty the jar and recall the year’s best moments.

This is an idea that has been floating around in one form or another for some time, and I love this idea for a specific reason. When you relive a positive event, your brain experiences the same good emotions as when the event actually occurred. And starting a habit of taking note of good things that happen retrains your brain over time to start noticing the good things when they are happening. While most of us are laser-focused on the negatives, we can refocus and start seeing the positives. And when you are seeing the positives, what more is possible for you? (Answer: A lot!)

As a family activity, encourage every member of the family to contribute at least one note per week. More if you like!

At work, do it companywide or by department, office or work group.

This new awareness will increase your happiness both at home and at work, and it will give you the happiness advantage.

The happiness advantage is what you get when you are happy. So instead of a mindset that tells you, “I’ll be happy when I lose weight, get a new job, get better at golf … ,” science has proven that it is when you are happy that you will lose weight, get a new job, get better at golf …

As an added bonus, when New Year’s comes in 2014, you can celebrate the year’s positives—with specific memories.


The One Minute Manager—Do You Remember It? Do You Use It?

I was reminded of the classic book yesterday while Skyping with a young manager who trains employees for a multinational Fortune 100 consumer electronics firm in the Washington, D.C., area. She asked me if I’d ever read the book—well yes! We laughed. In 1982 when it was first published!

Hearing this young manager’s perspectives on the book led me to dust off my copy and peruse this forgotten gem. Since reading it nearly 30 years ago, I’ve worked for nine different managers. Which ones were most effective? Which ones elicited the best from their staff? Which ones ran productive, prosperous and happy shops? Yep, it’s the ones who employed the One Minute Management techniques: One Minute Goals, One Minute Praisings, and One Minute Reprimands. They weren’t the ones who spent their days sequestered in their closed offices not providing any feedback—good or bad.

“The best minute I spend is the one I invest in people.”

Written as a parable told through the eyes of a young manager’s search for the best leadership and management skills, one of the key elements of One Minute Management is MBWA (management by walking around), which was coined by Tom Peters around the same time in his best-selling In Search of Excellence.

“Goals begin behaviors; consequences maintain behaviors.”

Good performance begins with clear goals and expectations. These are set during a One Minute Goals meeting. Here, the manager and the employee agree on goals, write them down and then occasionally review them to ensure that they are being met. Consequences are reviewed too—for positive and negative outcomes. The meetings are longer than one minute, but are short and to the point.

MBWA is critical to techniques two and three. Walking around helps a manager catch someone doing something right and provides the opportunity to give One Minute Praisings. The manager praises the employee on the spot, telling him specifically what he did correctly and how that positively impacts the company’s business. Then, the manager lets the employee savor the moment, and finishes with a handshake.

“Feedback is the breakfast of champions.”

The third technique is the One Minute Reprimand. Being honest and accountable with those around you involves reprimanding when a wrong has occurred. The first step is to reprimand immediately and specifically. This is the same as the praise technique, and it holds an important aspect of the goals technique: it enables an understanding of goals and responsibilities and how to complete them correctly. It’s critical that following the reprimand, you shake hands and remind the person that it was simply their performance that you did not like—not them as a person. The handshake is important and reinforces that you believe in the person and their abilities.

“People who feel good about themselves, produce good results.”

The One Minute Manager is one of the best selling business books of all time. For nearly 30 years, millions of managers in companies small and large worldwide have benefitted from the simple techniques laid out by authors Kenneth Blanchard and Spencer Johnson.

It’s a quick read that lays out simple and easy-to-use basic management skills (that are used less often that you would think). You can differentiate yourself from most managers by actually using them!

If you’re not regularly using these simple techniques, I challenge you to try them out and see what changes with your team. Call or email me for a 30-minute leadership coaching session. Let’s put the One Minute Management techniques to work for you!

Do One Emotionally Difficult Thing Every Day

How are you avoiding the tough—but productive—conversations that you could hold with your self? Or, as I like to ask, “What lies are you telling yourself right now?” (Admittedly, a little harsh.)

This week I am inspired by Peter Bregman’s article, just posted at Fast Company. Essentially, he challenges each of us to do one emotionally difficult thing every day. Most of us will avoid that challenge like the plague. But here’s why we might re-think that.

Tackling something that is emotionally charged is hard enough. But what’s worse? The pain we feel by not taking action. Not telling a colleague when his behavior is interfering with your work. Not saying no to the “friend” whose company leaves you drained every time you meet her for lunch—or anything else!

For me, it’s about articulating what’s going on. At the Coaches Training Institute (CTI), we just call it AWGO–articulating what’s going on. It’s a powerful coaching tool and can be used productively in most instances.

It’s hard to be honest and direct sometimes, especially within certain employment structures. I’ve found that as long as you are speaking with integrity and compassion, you will find greater happiness and make better choices. Every day in which you take on an emotional challenge gives you strength and underlines your integrity. It’s natural to experience fear that such openness will result in a bad outcome—that’s why it’s such a challenge.  The outcomes, though, are far better than the price you pay.

What sorts of things might you find emotionally difficult to do? Please share your ideas here. If it’s difficult for you, it’s most likely difficult for others too.




Spring—A Time to Reawaken!

Springtime. Are you ready to emerge from your wintertime way of life and welcome the new possibilities of spring? I say, “Yes, I am” and when I look at what I’m doing, it’s perfect! Last month I began the fast-track co-active coaches training program at The Coaches Training Institute in San Rafael, CA.

What do I love most about the program? I love that the co-active coaching model is built upon one very powerful belief: people are naturally creative, resourceful and whole. PEOPLE ARE NATURALLY CREATIVE, RESOURCEFUL AND WHOLE. How do you feel when you read this? Do you feel like this is a place where you are ready to embrace your future? YES!

So, for the next two months, I’ll be traveling back and forth to California for my seminars and doing a lot of practice coaching—I’m taking new clients at a reduced rate until I am certified this summer. I’m very excited about what I’m learning and how it will dovetail into my current happiness in the workplace consulting business. It will reinforce the trainings to develop high-performance teams. It also will give more depth and breadth to the executive leadership coaching I provide.

I promise to share as I go! You will meet some of my auspicious cohort—16 terrific people from far and wide: China, India, England, Norway, Seattle, LA, the San Francisco Bay Area, Colorado and Oregon. I will challenge you with powerful questions too.

Here’s one: How does your current career align with your personal values?

How would you answer? Does this make you feel good? Or do you feel like you are missing something important? Perhaps that’s where we start on your leadership coaching journey.

That’s all for now! May this spring awaken your natural states of creativity and resourcefulness. May you feel whole as you move forward with the things that can make your life feel meaningful and happier—even at work! Contact me for coaching at 541-601-0114 or

Bonjour printemps!

April is the Cruelest Month

Fools, showers and tax returns. Perhaps T.S. Eliot was right when he wrote that “April is the cruelest month.”

April is bad news whether you’re in New York desperately trying to fill in your tax return (due April 17 this year), in London gathering together your end-of-year accounts (April 6) or are one of hundreds of new graduates having a nerve-wracking start at a major company in Tokyo (April 1 is the usual date for the entry ceremony—Nyushashiki—for new employees).

Data gathered in collaboration with The Wall Street Journal (see original article; see results), tells us that people around the world are more unhappy at work in April than any other month. So why does this matter? The Science of Happiness at Work and The Performance-Happiness Model tell us that happiness is a significant indicator of performance outcomes. The happier employees are at work, the more they feel engaged, energized, and “on task.” And the less they’ll be out sick or thinking about leaving their job.

In other words, Happiness at Work predicts employee performance and motivation. And it has a significant impact on the bottom line.

Back to April and its effects. Employees appear to experience a significant rough patch throughout the month. They report spending less time on task, less time feeling energized, and less time feeling engaged. What’s worse for employers is that April is when employees report their greatest desire to leave their jobs.

But why April? There are two massive and obvious drivers: recruitment and HR practices.

Let’s take recruitment first. When organizations think of recruiting, they are unlikely to do it in December. They start in January. They write the job descriptions, check with HR and their favorite consultants. Then they get going in early February.

But by the time they’ve found the right person, April has come around–and that’s when employees move on. So it’s no surprise that the housing market is buoyant at the same time. Movement is the order of the day in April, so things get done before the summer break.

There is however a serious added effect. The employees who quit, don’t only leave their jobs: they leave a great deal of dissatisfaction behind them too.  No one likes being left while others move on to greener pastures.

The negative effect of changed relationships and responsibilities rumbles throughout April, spreading like contagion from person to person, but like wildfire if more than one key employee leaves. It’s the time when personal and professional networks interact creating a strong ripple effect.

Turning to HR practices. The exodus in April is often kick-started by new targets and key performance indicators set in January.  When the old year ends, a new one begins, and that’s when fresh targets are set. The satisfaction of having achieved a budget or met your targets lasts only a very short time—especially compared to the difficulty of starting again from scratch.

Many organizations make things worse by asking for “stretch targets” or “big, hairy, audacious goals,” aka impossible ones. Too often impossible goals, which get bosses salivating, are seen as unachievable and therefore massively demotivating by the employees who have to deliver them. Especially when those goals are coupled with uncertain economic times. That’s when employees start thinking about greener pastures—at the same time as recruitment is getting going.

So what should organizations do? Being aware of the coupled effect is one thing. If you know it’s happening you can take steps to nurture your best employees and make sure that you are connected to them. Especially at this time of year.

Oh. There’s one more thing to be aware of. Mondays are less happy than other days of the week. Employees report significantly lower levels of commitment to their jobs, goal achievement, feelings of efficiency and effectiveness, and general positive feelings to name a few.

This year April has five Unhappy Mondays and a tragic Tuesday (Tax Day). Enjoy them all.

If you’re interested in finding out how happy at work you are, click here. For a free team report for 9-19 people, contact Chris.


Is Anyone Sick of Happiness at Work? I’m Not, and Here’s Why

Happiness at work is a big topic these days. I spoke to a packed room at the Medford Rotary about it just last week. Even with unemployment still looming large, most people are carrying 150% or more of the workload they were hired for. Companies are cutting their workforce without lowering the expected output. Someone needs to pick up the slack. How can employees stay positive and how can a company justify investing in workforce engagement programs?

How can they not? 

The billboard you see above is posted all over the San Francisco Bay area. There are many terrific books on happiness at work, and more and more articles continue to be published as the research continues. Just Google “happiness at work” and you will find articles in Forbes, the Wall Street Journal, the Harvard Business ReviewPsychology Today, etc. There is even a great LinkedIn group that I belong to called ‘Happy at Work.’ Check it out!

According to one of my favorite happiness gurus, Shawn Achor, “Nearly every company in the world gives lip service to the idea that ‘our people are our greatest asset’. Yet when the Conference Board Survey came out last year, employees were the unhappiest they have been in their 22 years of tracking job satisfaction rates. Around the same time, CNNMoney reported a survey that indicated 84% of Americans are unhappy with their current job. Mercer’s “What’s Working” survey found that one in three US employees are serious about leaving their current jobs.”

Why is this lack of happiness at work important? Job satisfaction is not only the key predictor of turnover rates. In The Happiness Advantage, former Harvard University professor Achor makes the research case for the fact that the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce. A decade of research proves that happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: raising sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%, as well as a myriad of health and quality of life improvements. Yet even those companies that do take leadership training seriously still ignore the role that happiness plays in leadership effectiveness.

So the secret is out! Happiness, job satisfaction and fulfillment, and employee engagement are WIN-WIN situations for employees and employers. How does your company invest in yours?

(Photo credit to: Anne Espiritu – Google+

The Value of Happiness: How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits

Do you have any idea how happy I was to see my January/February 2012 issue of the Harvard Business Review with this cover? “The Value of Happiness: How Employee Well-Being Drives Profits.” My good cheer was palpable. This further confirms all that I have learned about the Science of Happiness at Work and the Performance-Happiness Model.

The issue has several articles that make good points.

The Economics of Well-Being: This article points out how GNP and GDP (which measure wealth by income generated) don’t take into account the unpaid good in society (volunteering, child rearing, etc.) yet do include the paid “bad” such as the money generated by building prisons, paying lawyers for divorces, etc. It talks about metrics like the Human Development Index (we’re 4th after Norway, Australia and the Netherlands) and Human Development, Adjusted for Inequality (we don‘t place). The main gist of the article is about the history of how well-being intersects with economics and what direction it’s headed. Good news: it’s headed toward looking more closely at happiness and quality of life as indicators of wealth. The countries of Bhutan and Great Britain are on the leading edge of that new measurement.

The Science Behind the Smile: Researchers are now measuring happiness and defining what really makes people happy. It’s not what you think. Yes, people who are rich, in a good relationship, actively participating in their church and healthy are happier overall. But events like getting a promotion, a new house or car or acing an exam only create more happiness for about three months. The frequency of positive experiences is more important than the intensity. And at work, what really contributes most to happiness is feeling appropriately challenged—when you’re striving to achieve goals that are ambitious but not out of reach. Managers take note: happier workers are more productive and creative. Years of research on rewards and punishment present a very clear finding: rewards work better.

Creating Sustainable Performance: “If you give your employees the chance to learn and grow, they’ll thrive—and so will your organization.” How do you create an environment where employees feel that they are learning, achieving their potential and contributing to something that matters? Do all of the following:

  • Give them decision-making discretion.
  • Share information.
  • Minimize incivility.
  • Offer performance feedback.

These four tactics work together to create a culture where your employees can thrive. This mindset is contagious. And drives better performance in a sustainable way.

Positive Intelligence: More research shows that when people work with a positive mindset, every business outcome shows improvement. That includes greater productivity, creativity, customer service and sales, and less sick time and turnover. And while we believe that happiness is mainly determined by genetics and environment, there is much that we can do to increase our levels and frequency of happiness. Three activities the author recommends:

  • Develop a habit that trains your brain to be happier (i.e., meditate at your desk for 2 minutes, exercise for 10 minutes, write a positive message to someone in your social support network or write down three things each day that you are grateful for). See my blog on What Went Well for more details on this.
  • Help your coworkers—research shows that people with high levels of social support reap many benefits including better health, more promotions and better customer experiences.
  • Mitigate stress. Although stress is an inevitable part of work and can sometimes enhance your performance, getting stressed out about things outside of your control is harmful. Next time you are feeling overly stressed, make a list of the things that are causing the stress. Separate these stressors into two types: the things you can change and the things you cannot. Then choose one that you can change and take one concrete step toward mitigating that stressor.

I’d like to help you become happier at work. Start by taking a free assessment at Then call me for a complimentary coaching session to explore what you can do to increase your happiness at work—and increase your productivity and value to your company.