Andrew Luttrell, Ph.D.

Positive psychology is the psychology of happiness and well-being. What tools can help people foster a sense of happiness and well-being? Are there certain types of people who are predisposed to be happier? What lessons can we learn from them? These are the types of questions positive psychologists aim to answer.

These questions have always been important — some philosophers argue that it’s a fundamental human motivation to seek happiness. But over the past several months, with the outbreak of COVID-19, significant economic upheaval, and increased isolation as a result of social distancing measures, these concerns have taken on a greater significance.

My course, Be Happier with Positive Psychology, looks at the research into what makes people happy and offers concrete steps you and your employees can take to boost your sense of well-being. In this blog post, I’ll preview a few of the steps you can take to promote happiness and well-being at your company.

The Psychology of Happiness

Last Updated October 2023

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The Science of Positive Psychology – Principles of Well-Being and Life Satisfaction | By Andrew Luttrell, Ph.D.

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Why does positive psychology matter right now?

Thinking about our happiness and well-being has always been important, but over the past several months, our lives have changed dramatically. Let’s explore how these changes may be affecting our happiness.

Humans are social creatures, and we rely on our connections with others for a sense of well-being. There’s a field of study that shows loneliness is associated with negative physical health outcomes and other psychological health challenges. Similarly, our sense of self is really built out of a feeling of belonging to our communities and a sense of acceptance among others. Our social isolation at the moment can certainly impact our sense of well-being.

We also don’t tend to deal well with uncertainty, and at the moment, it’s unclear exactly what the world will look like a year from now, a month from now, or tomorrow. With the uncertainty we’re currently experiencing, people also have a harder time feeling a sense of contentment with how things are going. 

And, of course, economic instability can also have an impact on happiness. The evidence shows that once you hit a certain level of comfortable income, making more money is not associated with happiness at all. But we do need that economic stability of being able to meet our essential needs.

Employers, managers, and leaders should be considering all these factors, first and foremost, because it’s humane to care about your employees and want to ensure their safety and security. Beyond that, research has shown that happier employees are more likely to produce better business outcomes such as raising sales, productivity, and accuracy. Author and happiness expert Shawn Achor writes in the Harvard Business Review, “the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce.”

Now that we’ve explored why positive psychology matters, especially in the current moment, let’s look at a few lessons from my course and how you can apply them in the workplace. 

1. Cultivate a sense of gratitude 

Gratitude is a useful tool for fostering well-being, and one of the easiest ways to cultivate gratitude is with a gratitude journal. This is a simple practice of taking a few minutes every day or a few days a week to make a list of things we feel grateful for. Keep in mind that they don’t have to be major things. It might be something simple like being able to tuck your child into bed at night or going for a walk around your neighborhood.

Once people remind themselves of what they feel grateful for, it can quickly transform into well-being in the long term. We don’t just feel better in the moment, but it also fosters a sense of happiness that carries on for a while. 

In a work setting, managers can encourage their team to share something that they’re feeling grateful for. I recommend doing it in a situation where people don’t feel pressure, where they have time to think about it and reflect on it. It’s also important to remove any element of competition, so managers should be thoughtful about modeling simple examples — maybe you tried a new recipe this week or eliminated one meeting you didn’t need to have to free up some time in your schedule — and acknowledging that everyone’s gratitude is legitimate.

2. Foster social relationships and connection

I mentioned earlier that social contexts are critical for well-being, and we often underestimate their importance. There was a great study that prompted participants to strike up conversations with strangers on the train during their commute home, and even though most people thought this would be uncomfortable, they ended up reporting a greater sense of happiness after these exchanges.

Right now, it’s harder to foster social relationships and connections, but not impossible. I recommend creating “social snacks,” which might involve texting a friend, FaceTiming with a family member, or having a Zoom call with a group. Find ways to create a social space, even if you can’t be with people. 

In a work context, this might look like creating opportunities for people to socialize. I’d recommend letting these activities be optional and creating a clear structure for them, such as doing a trivia night or a game night via Zoom. The goal is to foster the idea that all the people you would have seen at your office are still out there, you can still connect with them, and there are opportunities to do so.

3. Look for opportunities to help others 

We get a lot out of doing good for others, whether it’s practicing random acts of kindness, spending money on others, or giving other people gifts. And we’re in a time with plenty of opportunities to help other people. 

With unemployment at historically high levels, most of us know someone whose work has been affected by the pandemic. Perhaps you can offer to review their resume or put them in touch with a recruiter at your company if you’re hiring. If you know that one of your team members is feeling overwhelmed, you can step in and help them with a particular project or task. On the team or company level, you might organize a food drive to donate to your local food bank or something similar. Participating in this type of activity collectively and sharing what you were able to achieve — how many meals you provided or how much money you raised — can foster a sense of well-being as well.

One final thought — while positive psychology provides plenty of ideas about how to foster happiness and well-being, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach. Research and studies show us what happens on average, which means not everyone will experience the same results. Don’t get discouraged if these practices don’t work for you and your employees. The important thing is to keep an open mind and keep trying until you find something that works. I share even more tips and strategies in my course, Be Happier with Positive Psychology.

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Page Last Updated: May 2020