Why Positive Psychology Helps You in the Workplace

positive psychology

Psychology originally focused on illnesses, diseases and disorders (the disease model). Although there were enough psychologists focusing on (positive) behavior, such as Skinner, Jung and Maslow, it wasn’t until 1998 that positive psychology became a separate field of study. Martin Seligman was the first who coined the term “Positive Psychology” and is one of the founders of this flow of research. Positive psychology has a wide range of applications by employers to retain talent and employee engagement.

In this article I would like to discuss the applications of positive psychology that we can use to improve our own work experience and performance.

Definition of positive psychology

Before starting to explain what we can do with positive psychology, this is the definition as presented by Martin Seligman in his Ted Talk (link below under sources):

“Psychology should be:

  • As concerned with strengths as with weakness
  • As interested in building the best things in life as in repairing the worst
  • As concerned with making the lives of normal people fulfilling and with nurturing high talent as with healing pathology”

Extremely happy people differentiate themselves in one main way from the “ordinary” people:  they have massive luxurious yachts. Just kidding.

Very happy people have a lot of positive human interaction and are extremely social. This together with other elements defined by positive psychology research, engagement and meaning, is what makes us happy. Or let me rephrase that and be more specific: this is what increases our life satisfaction. As being happy all the time is not realistic for everybody. Life satisfaction however, is something that can be improved by everybody.

“Why would my happiness be important for work”, you ask yourself. Well, happy people are more productive and more creative and therefore deliver more value at work. So you don’t become happy by doing great work. Instead, it is the other way around: when you are happy and content, you do better work.

You are responsible for your own work experience

Positive psychology is much more than experiencing positive emotion. In fact, Seligman states in his Ted talk that positive emotion does not contribute all that much to overall life satisfaction.

The two most important elements of life satisfaction are:

  1. Engagement (or flow)
  2. Meaning

Once the conditions of engagement and meaning are met and only then, will increased positive emotion help you with increasing your overall life satisfaction.

In turn, increased life satisfaction will also make you more productive at work.

1. Engagement and flow

Flow is being completely involved in a task for its own sake. When you enter a state of flow, you forget you exist, you forget any pain or doubts you may have and you just create. A state of flow has the added benefit that your productivity and output are increased.

You reach a flow state when you are engaged in an activity at which you are skilled and when the activity itself is difficult (such as writing).

If you recognize this in yourself and you have a lot of those experiences, then good job! If you’re more like me, it can sometimes be challenging to get in a state of flow – although I can make this happen with some effort.

When you don’t have that many experiences of flow at your work, you can tailor your job more to increase your experience of flow. You can do this, for instance, by:

  1. Identifying the tasks you are relatively good at and which you love doing. Discuss this with your manager and see if you can spend more time on those tasks, which generally means ditching some low value tasks or changing the process to eliminate these tasks.
  2. Making sure you’re not interrupted when working at the tasks above. It takes 15 to 30 minutes to enter a state of flow.

You can read more about the flow state in this article.

2. Meaning

To increase your motivation and overall satisfaction, research has shown that you will increase your motivation if you assign meaning to what you’re doing.

Of course, one of the primary reasons to work is to make money, I get that. And a lot of us work don’t work for NGO’s. However, we can still assign meaning to the tasks we’re doing. For instance, if you know your work is really appreciated by others, this will automatically increase the meaning of what you’re doing.

Moreover, you can see how you can help your colleagues more and to build meaningful relationships at work. As mentioned earlier in this post, extremely happy people are the ones which are also very social. Why not start increasing positive interactions at work, then?

Other topics of positive psychology and conclusion
There are many other facets of positive psychology. The core of positive psychology is to focus on your strengths, instead of focusing on your weaknesses. The latter can drain you of motivation. However, focusing on your strengths will do the opposite.

You can find other topics about positive psychology on the website of Penn University, such as:

  1. Grit – see my post on grit here.
  2. Creativity and imagination
  3. Growth from adversity

I hope you liked this post. If so, don’t forget to share and like my post and see you back here next week for a new article!


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