According to Tal Ben-Shahar, who taught the the most popular course at Harvard University on ‘Positive Psychology,’ happiness is the key to successful leadership.
He’s now the author of a new book, The Joy of Leadership: How Positive Psychology Can Maximise your Impact in a Challenging World and at the beginning of July we were lucky to hear him speak.
He believes that through the ‘science of happiness’ and theory of positive psychology we can address the questions that so many people want answers to: Why aren’t I happy? and How can I become happier?
Traditionally, psychologies centred around improvement of negative situations as a means to improve happiness and success. Essentially, they focused on the negative. He takes the example of a study of an ‘at risk’ population from post WWII, in which poverty, teenage pregnancy etc. were rife. The study asked the question: ‘why do these people fail?’ The programmes put into place as a result of these ‘negatively focused’ studies were analysed over 50 years and 32 countries….they had 0% impact.
Conversely, positive psychology is rooted in the whole reality, looking at the positive and the negative. As Tal Ben-Shahar put it, there are three secrets to happiness: ‘reality, reality and reality.’
Case in point, in the 1980’s, a similar study of ‘at risk’ children was conducted with a different question: ‘what makes some individuals successful despite unfavourable circumstances?’ It focused on the positive figures in at risk communities, rather than just the negative, including the part of reality that had previously been ignored. What they found was that amongst those who had succeeded, there was one unique characteristic: resilience.
They also found key factors which enabled these children’s success – ordinary characteristics that led to extraordinary results:
- They set future goals, and felt that they had a purpose
- They helped others
- They had a realistic, but optimistic outlook
- They had role models (whether personal, external or fictional)
- They were physically active
So what does this mean to us and how can we transfer these learnings to our everyday? Ben-Shahar had four essential tips:
1. Learn from what works
The best self-help books are actually biographies
2. Focus on your strengths
You should focus on your strengths, asking yourself: what are you good at? Those who focus on their strengths are disproportionately more successful in their work – so where you can – do what you do best, everyday.
3. Keep active
Yes it’s true. Exercise matters. 30 minutes, three times a week has the same effect as the most powerful psychological medication.
4. Be grateful, for the little things
Identify something you are grateful for every day. No matter how small. You’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make to your well-being and put those creeping negative feelings into context.