Archive for positive psychology

A Walk Down Memory Lane: Or Why I Love Positive Psychology

Sunshine Yellow Flower

My students in the Working with Emotional Intelligence class at Southern Oregon University recently presented on an emotional intelligence (EI) topic they wanted to know more about. I was delighted at the number who picked a positive psychology topic. That’s what I chose four years ago when I took an EI class as part of my Master in Management program. That got me thinking back …

Here’s how my thesis began: Previous business bestsellers (e.g., One Minute Manager, Who Moved My Cheese, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People) may have offered good advice, and while much of this advice is intuitive, it was not based on research.


Research has demonstrated that specific psychological states contribute to an organization’s success. Developed by Fred Luthans, the premise of Psychological Capital (or PsyCap) is that a company can enhance its leadership, employee development and performance by developing four psychological states in its employees: hope, confidence [efficacy], optimism and resiliency. PsyCap is something that can be cultivated and can have a profound effect on an organization’s bottom line (Luthans, Avolio, Avey & Norman, 2007).

PsyCap is an individual’s positive state of psychological development characterized by the four constructs of:

  1. Hope: persevering toward goals and making adjustments along the way to succeed
  2. Confidence [efficacy]: taking on and putting in the necessary effort to succeed at challenging tasks
  3. Optimism: feeling positive about succeeding now and in the future
  4. Resiliency: the ability to sustain and bounce back from problems and adversity to attain success (Avey, Luthans, Smith & Palmer, 2010)

PsyCap is made up of the combination of all four states because together they can predict performance outcomes more accurately than any single one (Avey, et al., 2010).


Through his research, Luthans confirmed that these states can be learned and the outcomes measured. He worked with a well-known Silicon Valley high-tech firm, where 75 engineering managers participated in PsyCap training. After subtracting the cost of the training and the engineers’ time, the calculated return on investment was 270% (Hope, Optimism and Other Business Assets, 2007).

Increasing Your PsyCap

I appreciate my students pointing me back to my PsyCap roots, and I love that I am able to use this research to help people and organizations around the Rogue Valley and beyond. If your organization would benefit from greater PsyCap, give me a call at 541.601.0114. Let’s see how successful you can be!


Avey, J., Luthans, F., Smith, R., & Palmer, N. (2010). Impact of positive psychological capital on employee well-being over time. Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, 15(1), 17–28. doi:10.1037/a0016998.

Hope, optimism, and other business assets: Q&A with Fred Luthans. (2007, January 11). Gallup Management Journal. Retrieved from

Luthans, F., Avolio, B.J., Avey, J.B., & Norman, S.M. (2007, Autumn). Positive psychological capital: measurement and relationship with performance and satisfaction. Personnel Psychology, 60(3), 541–572. doi:10.1111/j.1744-6570.2007.00083.x.

What’s the Problem? (No. Strike That.) What’s Working Here?

Dandelion Flower Growing out of Street Curb

How to bring out the best in tough situations by building on the good

Since childhood, we’ve been conditioned to look for what’s wrong and try to fix it. In organizations, we often start with looking for the deficits, the weak spots, the challenges—and then have countless committee meetings to study these problem areas.

Are we missing the boat?

I like to start with the positive and build from there. That’s the cornerstone of a method called Appreciative Inquiry, which was developed as part of the positive psychology movement of the 1990s. Management guru Peter Drucker summed it up well: “The task of organizational leadership is to create an alignment of strengths in ways that make the system’s weaknesses irrelevant.”

Appreciative Inquiry (AI) is ideal for bringing out the best in less than optimal situations—situations where change is a necessity to survive. This approach provides a positive way for participants to move forward by building on what’s working today. It’s not thinking positive, looking on the sunny side, being a Pollyanna, or putting your head in the sand; it’s harsh realism and the exploration of what good one can find in even the bleakest situation.

I’ve heard it said our culture becomes the stories we tell. So if we are telling a story like, “This place stinks. We haven’t had a raise in three years, and my workload keeps growing,” what’s the culture, what seems possible? What if we told the story in a different way? If we reframe it to: “I like my coworkers. We are good at stretching our resources to the limit so we can help the most people,” what possibilities open up?

I am reminded of the quote, “I’ll see it when I believe it.” When we can focus on what’s right and what we value, we change our mindset and become open to more possibilities.

Here are the simple steps of AI:

1. Discover: Identify things that work well.

2. Dream: Envision what would work well in the future.

3. Design: Plan and prioritize the processes that would work well.

4. Deliver: Implement the proposed design.

If you are part of an organization looking to transform into a positive, forward-moving culture where people are energized and engaged, AI could be for you.  Just remember that changing culture and attitudes is an ongoing process; you can begin anywhere. Also, be confident that you will be successful as long as you proceed with integrity, sincerity and genuine curiosity. This process will begin to inform your every decision—how people are hired, how results are measured, how goals are set, how resources are allocated, how clients are treated and every other critical factor driving your business.

AI has been successfully implemented in numerous industries and locations, including business, health care, nonprofits, education, government, and finance.

Please let me know your experience with AI, and if you haven’t explored AI for yourself, let’s talk! We will start with what’s good.

Learning About Happiness and Company Culture from the Big Dogs

Your culture is your brand; your brand is your culture. The two are one in the same—inextricably intertwined. It’s where marketing, positive psychology and innovative business practices intersect. After spending more than 25 years as a professional marketer, I watched the concept crystallize during two amazing days last week in San Francisco.

These two days were in a master class with Nic Marks of the “think and do tank” called the New Economics Foundation (NEF) and five key members of the team at Delivering Happiness at Work.

Chris and Nic in San Francisco

Delivering Happiness at Work is a spinoff of Zappos, the shoe and apparel company known around the world for its success in creating a company culture that spawns success at every level, from employee happiness to customer happiness to shareholder happiness. When you think of Zappos, what comes to mind?

This spring, a new survey was launched by NEF, Zappos and Delivering Happiness at Work that measures the elements necessary for happy workers:

  • the personal resources people bring to work;
  • the environment people are asked to work in;
  • the functionality that results from the combination of resources and environment; and
  • a person’s overall experience at work.

While the concept seems so basic, the research behind the survey is immense. The realization that happy workers drive business success is sweeping the world, and the research keeps growing. The design of this happiness at work survey is based on more than 10 years experience of measuring happiness and well-being at the New Economics Foundation. The happiness at work survey translates—and transfers—these skills into the context of work and organizations.

The survey is free and available online here. Check out the survey and let me know if your organization is ready to brand itself with happy workers. Your employees will benefit, your customers will benefit and your bottom line will benefit. Wouldn’t you love to be among the organizations on the Best Companies to Work For list—all winners!

If you are ready to get going, give me a call at 541.601.0114 or email me at Let’s talk happy. Let me help you find your own unique brand of happiness that will propel your organization forward past all your competitors. And let’s have a great time doing so!

What You Think About Is What You Think About

A Google search for gratitude + happiness yields 14,600,000 results (in .20 seconds).

Now that in itself is something that I’m grateful for AND it makes me happy. This Thanksgiving season, I explore the connection between gratitude and happiness and how to get more of both.

I’ve noticed that people tend to spend more time thinking about what goes wrong and not enough about what is going right in their lives. 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 and good in our lives? 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 a bit catchier, but mine is more descriptive.

Here’s the deal: 27 Harvard students were paid to play Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row. For many days after, the students reported that they couldn’t stop seeing the Tetris shapes everywhere they looked, with their brains trying to re-arrange everything – from buildings and trees on the landscape to cereal boxes on the shelf in the grocery store – so that they would fit together to form a solid line so as to move on to the next level of the video game. Put simply, they couldn’t stop seeing the world as being made up of sequences of Tetris blocks!

This is caused by a normal physical process that actually changes the wiring of the brain. These new neural pathways warped the way these students viewed real-life situations. So 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 – terrific in court, but not so much at home where family members feel like they are participants in a deposition!

So think about what you think about. Make notes. Later this week, I’ll share some proven techniques to help you focus on the good things in life, and this will increase your happiness AND gratitude.


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.

The Happiness Gene

Kids Playing in a Lake with an Innertube

I was interested to hear that a new study is the first to identify a “happiness gene.” This meshes nicely with Sonja Lyubomirsky’s work, which says 50 percent of our happiness is genetically programmed, 40 percent is our choice and the other 10 percent is unknown.

Here’s the press release from the London School of Economics and Political Science:

People tend to be happier if they possess a more efficient version of a gene which regulates the transport of serotonin in the brain, a new study has shown.

The findings, published today in the Journal of Human Genetics, are the first to show a direct link between a specific genetic condition and a person’s happiness, as measured by their satisfaction with life.

This research led by behavioural economist Jan-Emmanuel De Neve, of the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), examined genetic data from more than 2,500 participants in the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (a representative population sample in the US). In particular, it looked at which functional variant of the 5-HTT gene they possess.

The 5-HTT gene, which provides the operating code for serotonin transporters in our neuron cell walls, has a variation (or allele) which can be either long or short. The long allele is more efficient, resulting in increased gene expression and thus more serotonin transporters in the cell membrane. Inheriting the gene from both parents, each of us will have a genotype which can be long-long, short-short or a combination of the two alleles.

The study compared the subject’s genetic type with their answer to the question “How satisfied are you with your life as a whole?”—to which they could give one of five possible answers: very satisfied, satisfied, dissatisfied, very dissatisfied or neither.

The results showed that a much higher proportion of those with the efficient (long-long) version of the gene were either very satisfied (35 per cent) or satisfied (34 per cent) with their life—compared to 19 per cent in both categories for those with the less efficient (short-short) form. Conversely, 26 per cent of those with the short-short allele were dissatisfied, compared to only 20 per cent of those with the long-long variant.

The study showed that possessing one long allele increases the likelihood of being very satisfied with life by 8.5 per cent as compared to having no long alleles of the 5-HTT gene. For two long alleles, the average likelihood of being very satisfied with life rose by 17 per cent in the study population.

Jan Emmanuel De Neve

Jan-Emmanuel De Neve said: “It has long been suspected that this gene plays a role in mental health but this is the first study to show that it is instrumental in shaping our individual happiness levels.”

“The results of our study suggest a strong link between happiness and this functional variation in the 5-HTT gene. Of course, our well-being isn’t determined by this one gene—other genes and especially experience throughout the course of life will continue to explain the majority of variation in individual happiness. But this finding helps to explain why we each have a unique baseline level of happiness and why some people tend to be naturally happier than others, and that’s in no small part due to our individual genetic make-up.”

The paper is entitled ‘Functional polymorphism (5-HTTLPR) in the serotonin transporter gene is associated with subjective well-being: evidence from a US nationally representative sample’ and is available at the Journal of Human Genetics ( or from the LSE Press Office or the author.

A related paper prepared by Jan-Emmanuel De Neve and co-authors Nicholas Christakis (Harvard Medical School), James H. Fowler (University of California, San Diego), and Bruno Frey (University of Zurich) further develops this research and looks at the evidence produced from a study of twin pairs. This work shows that genetics explain about one-third of the variation in human happiness. This paper is currently available as a SSRN working paper.