I’m not an inherently positive and optimistic person. I’m also kind of proud of that. I love the part of me that’s sarcastic and dark. I like that my snarky comments make people laugh. I also believe maintaining a healthy amount of cynicism is what makes me feel intellectually superior. Ignorance is bliss, after all.
But I do (begrudgingly) realize there are concrete ways that being happy at work can get you ahead. A study in the Journal of Personal Psychology noted that positive emotions actually help you get stronger when you face a major challenge: “being able to move on despite negative stressors does not demonstrate luck on the part of those successful individuals but demonstrates a concept known as resilience… resilient individuals have optimistic, zestful, and energetic approaches to life, are curious and open to new experiences, and are characterized by high positive emotionality.”
So positivity is a good thing. Let’s look at why.
Being happy gives you a competitive edge.
When faced with a problem, optimistic people see lots of possibilities. Positive thinking helps you see choices and outcomes that negative people don’t, because they’re too focused on the limitations. Tom Brady, the man of the moment with five solid Super Bowl wins, prides himself on staying positive. “I don’t get caught up in negativity and bashing other people and I’m very blessed. I get to do something I love to do,” he answered when asked about a scandal affecting his team. Brady’s favorite book is a self-help classic, The Four Agreements, whose author Miguel Ruiz has said, “we must forgive those that have wronged us, not bc they deserve to be forgiven, but bc we don’t want to keep paying for the injustice.” When you absorb negativity, you keep paying for those injustices — and that slows you down.
Being happy helps you stand out from the disgruntled crowd.
Let’s face it. A lot of workers in a lot of offices are not happy about being there. They complain, they whine, they talk about everything that they don’t like. Their sour expressions and “everything fails” outlooks aren’t unique — they’re all too common. It takes vision to see that, even if things are broken, they can be fixed and they can improve. If you can cultivate that vision, you’ll reap a lot of recognition and maybe even some financial rewards.
Being happy provides some job security.
Well-liked people tend to go further in companies and life in general. As Harrison Barnes wrote in the Harvard Business Review, “being well-liked in a work environment is an important thing in any job. If you are not liked by your peers, your superiors may think clients will not like you either. If superiors do not like you, you will not get a lot of work. If you are isolated from others within your organization, it is far easier to let you go in times of economic uncertainty. You need to always be in a position where others want to do you a favor and help you out.” Likeability and positivity usually go together. Again, it’s all too common to see the downsides of work and be blind to the upsides.
I saw this in my own life. When I was in college and waiting tables for a living, I got fired because my personality didn’t have enough “flair.” Remember Jennifer Aniston in Office Space? Yep, that was me. When it comes to cuts and layoffs, Debbie Downer is definitely the first to go.
Being happy pays.
It’s true. According to an economist in Australia who conducted a study, “a person who is completely satisfied with life earns $1,766.7 more than one who is completely unsatisfied with life.” So money still can’t buy happiness, but happiness can make you money.
Being happy even when you aren’t.
Right now, I have a job I want to get up and go to, it’s a great company and a really fun place to work. I’m a naturally positive person at work, but if I had a different job that I didn’t like as much, what would I do? Quit? That’s one idea. But here’s another, more interesting one. I can rewire my brain to be happy. Because I have superpowers? No, silly. Because I watched a TED Talk on the subject.
According to Shawn Achor, the world’s leading positive psychology expert (yes, that’s a thing) and the most popular teacher at Harvard, this is totally possible. Here’s how it works. You write down three new things that you’re grateful for 21 days in a row. Journaling about a positive experience you had during the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it. And after three weeks of this, you start to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive, rather than the negative.
Not only does this sound really cool, it sounds kind of fun, right? I guess that’s the point.