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The science of happiness: five ways to infuse positive psychology into your day

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The science of happiness: five ways to infuse positive psychology into your day

Walk into any bookshop ten years ago and you’d struggle to find a single book on the science of happiness. Now, you’ll find dozens.

Modern life is making many of us unhappier. But the groundbreaking findings of positive psychology over recent decades have uncovered practical steps we can take to change that.

And those same principles can help us build a more engaged workforce and become better communicators and managers.

So what is positive psychology?

Much of our time is spent looking at problems and trying to fix them – often with limited results. Positive psychology is about looking at what is working, rather than what isn’t. Looking at strengths rather than weaknesses. Nurturing the best things rather than just trying to fix what’s broken.

Positive psychology principles can help us create work environments that accentuate the positive rather than the negative. Here are five ways to put some basic principles into action.

Look for the bright spots

Research shows we naturally pay more attention to negatives than positives – missing out on opportunities to learn from areas where things are working particularly well.

In their book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath call these areas the ‘bright spots’. If we understand what’s working and why, shining a light on those bright spots gives us a better chance of multiplying those benefits.

When international facilities company Sodexo needed to rapidly increase engagement across hundreds of sites, they interviewed their best people managers to discover the practical actions they took with their teams on a daily basis. These ‘bright spot’ managers then played a central role in Sodexo’s Focus on Five campaign – designed to spread great behaviours rather than focus on what managers were doing wrong.

Build on strengths

No sane football manager would ask Lionel Messi to play in defence. No concert promoter would ask Ed Sheeran to sing opera.

But we regularly do the equivalent at work.

We all have natural strengths, yet performance appraisals often focus more on addressing our weaknesses. Why not spend more time trying to be brilliant at things we like and are good at, rather than rounding out our weaknesses to be merely average?

If we’re playing to our strengths we’re also more likely to be engaged in our work. In one study of 65 organisations, described in Shawn Achor’s Big Potential, those that celebrated strengths and successes not only had higher engagement, but also achieved average annual productivity increases estimated to be worth over $1000 per employee.

Focusing on strengths doesn’t mean completely ignoring weaknesses. After all, even Lionel Messi needs to help out in defence. But by focusing our team members on the things they do best, we’re more likely to increase both engagement and performance.

Have positive expectations

Studies show that our expectations of events or people can directly affect our experience of them.

It’s known as the Pygmalion effect, and was uncovered in a famous experiment led by Robert Rosenthal. Researchers administered intelligence tests to students in a primary school, then told the teachers who the ‘superstars’ were in their class, based on the results. They instructed the teachers not to mention the results, nor spend any more or less time with those high potential students.

At the end of the year the students were tested again, with the same results. Except … the ‘superstar’ students had in fact originally posted completely ordinary results. They’d been transformed into academic superstars by responding to the belief in them that their teachers had unwittingly and unconsciously conveyed.

Having positive expectations of people and situations can have a dramatic impact.

But the same is true of negative expectations. Many of us may have found this at work: a poor experience with a colleague leads us to believe that all future interactions with that person will also go badly. This not only affects how we approach those interactions, but how they play out as well.

So try to refocus your expectations of those more ‘difficult’ colleagues. After all, as Abraham Lincoln once put it: ‘Look for the bad in people and you will surely find it.’

Boost positive emotions

In Leaders Eat Last, Simon Sinek describes the role of the reward chemicals in our bodies –  the hormones that make us feel good. Two are ‘selfish’ chemicals – endorphines mask physical pain, while dopamine rewards us for accomplishment.

But it’s the ‘selfless’ chemicals – serotonin and oxytocin – that Sinek is most interested in. These are the chemicals that encourage us to work together, rewarding us with feelings of security, fulfilment, belonging, trust and camaraderie.

The more we boost these emotions in our workplaces, the more positive our workplaces will be. The key is to give employees opportunities to bond, to work together and to help others. Examples include volunteering, charity sponsorship, peer to peer recognition schemes or social events.

Creating regular face-to-face opportunities for employees to meet, connect and build relationships is also critical. The more familiar we are with each other, the stronger the bonds. Even in the digital age, there’s no substitute for face-to-face contact.

Spotlight the right

Many of us are conservative with our praise, often believing it should be reserved for ‘above and beyond’ achievements.

But as Shawn Achor highlights in Big Potential, praise helps focus our brain on positive behaviours. By ‘spotlighting the right’, we can increase the chance that those behaviours will be repeated.

Managers can spotlight the right by adopting the daily habit of celebrating everyday and seemingly insignificant actions. The way someone deals with a customer or difficultcolleague. A skillfully worded email. Taking an extra minute to find something for a colleague.

Spotlighting small actions may seem insignificant – but if it encourages repeat behaviour, then the overall impact can be huge.

Why not focus as much on what’s going right, as what’s going wrong? On accentuating the positive rather than the negative? You may be surprised at the results.

By Dave Wraith for Alive!

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Jo Hobbs — Communications Manager

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Sarah Crowdy — Campaign and Media Officer Communications, South East Water

“We went to ‘Alive’ for ideas on how to run a specific employee program in Europe. Alan and his team were brilliant in coming up with fresh, creative and practical approaches. The team took charge and executed brilliantly. We are pleased with the progress made so far and hope to have the same level of partnership and commitment going forward.”

Sobha Varghese — Tata Consultancy Services

“Alive helped us create a video of our response to the floods of winter 2019. Our Chief Officer received messages from all round the country praising us for it and was really pleased with both the video and the response to it.”

Alexander Mills, Communications Manager — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“We had the privilege to work with the Alive team. It was our first time to be involved in creating an animation for our patients within paediatrics. The team were approachable, friendly, creative and very accommodating. Your vision for what you want to create, is at all times acknowledged, appreciated and accommodated by the team. They worked effectively and with great passion towards our project and worked not only alongside health professionals but also our patients who really enjoyed the experience of working with the Alive team. It has given our team the confidence and inspiration to do further projects in the future. We highly recommend Alive and their exceptional team.”

DR ELENI ATHANASAKOS, Lead Paediatric Clinical Scientist — NHS Barts Health

“‘The short animation developed in co-production with clinicians and young people is outstanding! Informative, developmentally appropriate, vitally fun and engaging. We are really grateful for the expertise of the Alive with Ideas team for their innovative approach in building children’s health literacy.'”

Kath Evans — Director of Children’s Nursing at Barts Health

“Our mission was to update our brand visuals to better reflect our innovative and forward-thinking organisation. After receiving numerous pitches from different branding agencies, Alive stood out with their clear passion and understanding of our identity and goals. We thoroughly enjoyed working with the Alive Team to create an engaging new brand that we are immensely proud of.”

Lianne Springer — Communications and Engagement Lead

“Alive wowed us during the pitch process and they didn’t stop wowing us throughout the whole project. Every person we worked with at Alive were so friendly, knowledgeable and clearly passionate about what they do. They have worked with us to really understand what we do and have created a new brand and website that really stands out from our competitors. Thank you!”

Louise Burnard, Head of Marketing and Communications UK — Be | Shaping the Future

“I think the team have done such a brilliant job, particularly with responding to our requests. It's one of the best mental health videos I've ever seen. Very proud to be associated with your exemplary work. Thank you so much.”

Dr Anna Batho — Clinical Psychologist – Critical Care, UCLH

“We have worked with Alan, Caroline and the wider Alive With Ideas team for many years. In that time, they have provided a dedicated service that is second to none. We appreciate their attention to detail and creative approach to bringing our brand, communications and stories to life. And would recommend them to anyone looking for creative communications support.”

Georgia Beech — Internal Communications Specialist, Ocado Group

“This is brilliant. I wanted to give my heartfelt thanks to all of the team who worked on this. You all understood exactly what we wanted to communicate and why, and then managed to do it in a way that was far better than anything I could have imagined. I’m a bit choked up to be honest!”

Sarah Wright, Head of Communications and Campaigns — NEA

“Each time I work with the team, I am always stunned at the effort and creativity that goes into each detail and am always eager for the end result. The team is extremely accommodating and always provide a fresh approach to our projects that elevates our communications materials!”

Alana Khaytin, Communications Specialist — Braskem America

“What I really appreciate about Alive is that they work with us as partners, and care as much about getting it right for our patients as we do.”

Sara Langston, Patient Engagement & Marketing Manager — italk

“Alive are unique in how much they deeply listen and invest in you and your ideas. I have not come across a company that listens as much as they do to ensure your needs are understood and met (actually - they always exceed my needs and expectations). Everyone I recommend Alive to has an equally brilliant experience. When you work with Alive, you are not only getting some genius creativity brought into your life, you are also hanging out with some of the best examples of human beings I’ve ever known.”

Steph Tranter, Hybrid Exec Coach & Psychologist —

“The (Alive) team were able to creatively pull together and document (in just over 2minutes) everything our service has achieved over the last few months, from thousands of prescriptions deliveries to hundreds of phone calls made to the vulnerable. The final product was so powerful and reflective of what our service has and continues to achieve. It couldn’t have been better received within the service – thanks Alive for once again helping us to communicate our vision!’”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire & Rescue

“We worked with the team at Alive to create our staff recognition video.
At a time like this, its never been more important to share the amazing work that our staff have done and continue to do on a daily basis under very difficult circumstances. We wanted to shout about this and recognise that when the time came, South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue stepped up to the plate. We didn’t want an ordinary thank you post on social media or a basic email sent out internally, we wanted something special. Enter Alive. ”

Emma Wright — South Yorkshire Fire & Rescue

“Our company is fun, we have great brands, but most importantly we’re all about our people – and I wanted an agency who would understand that and help us bring it to life through our website and other comms. Straight away I felt that Alive ‘got’ us and provided the creative inspiration exactly where we needed it, as well as the technical expertise to deliver a well-functioning website.”

Keren McCarron, Head of Corporate Affairs & Communications — KP Snacks

Thank you so much. Incredible work done at incredible speed by incredible people.
Outstanding work as ever and what a turnaround. As for the concepts – wow. These are that good it would be an insult to describe them as just good. It’s a joke, quite frankly. This is exactly the Alive effect I was after. Right now I feel like I am living in an Alive With Ideas wonderland. Thank you!”

Jack Grasby, Campaigns Manager — SYFR

“If you are looking to improve creativity and build teamwork, I highly recommend a session like this for your team. No matter where you are in your creativity journey, a workshop like this can give your team a boost of energy and ideas to invigorate their creative thinking.”

Amy Lilja, IC Manager — Hennepin Healthcare

“Alive were there to help when we were working every hour to respond to the coronavirus outbreak. They gave us the creativity, ideas and support we needed to deliver campaigns which empowered our residents in the most difficult time most of us have ever seen, personally and professionally. The team understood what we needed, worked closely with us and delivered fast without any compromise on quality. Working with Alive has been a joy in the darkest of times and I have no doubt will have helped to save lives. Thanks team x”

Julie Odams, Assistant Director of Communications & Customers — Derbyshire County Council

“We got 'Alive' involved to help us shift mindsets across our organisation and they delivered! Using simple, clear and creative ideas the team have delivered us a campaign which has seen a dramatic increase in idea sharing and development. They’ve also played a significant role in creating a culture of shared success. I wouldn’t hesitate to work with again, in fact, we already are!”

Gavin Buckle — B&Q
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