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Positivity (Happiness) in the Workplace and Organizational Change

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What is Positivity and Happiness?

Archor’s definition of happiness (2010, p. 39), for me personally, strikes a balance between the notion of happiness being an emotion of simply feeling good and a more constructive and meaningful version:

… the experience of positive emotions – pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future… For me, happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential

I would imagine that the banking CEO I referred to in the Introduction to this paper would have been more supportive of Archor’s definition of happiness than what appeared to be his mental image that required no smiling!

Happiness as a general construct has also been described as Subjective Well Being (SWB), a term coined by Ed Diener (2008). Diener described SWB as having three elements, namely life satisfaction, positive affect, and negative affect. The implication being that an individual with high life satisfaction, high positive affect, and low negative affect has high SWB. The scientific term “Subjective Well Being” or SWB is used to avoid the ambiguous meaning of the term happiness.

Fredrickson (2009, p.6) prefers the use of the term “positivity” versus “happiness” because she considers happiness too vague and overused for scientific purposes. She describes positivity (2009, p. 6) as “a range of positive emotions – from appreciation to love, from amusement to joy, from hope to gratitude and then some”. Fredrickson further comments that the term positivity is purposefully broad, including the long term impact that positive emotions have on ones character, relationships, communities and environment. She describes ten emotions that make up her definition of positivity, namely joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe and love. These are scientific terms, she says, that can be defined and measured with precision. The importance of measurement in this case is that Fredrickson and her colleagues have identified a key ratio of at least 3-to-1 positive emotions to negative as being the tipping point that predicts whether people spiral into negativity or flourish. While other emotions obviously exist, scientific research suggests that these ten are the major ones that form the foundation of positivity. Fredrickson further describes a range of tools and techniques that can be used in ones daily life to enhance positivity.

Clearly, as implied by these definitions, happiness, positivity or subjective well-being cannot be attained through a permanently easy life, lacking struggle and challenge. The notion of striving towards life and career goals implies that a sense of well being requires some level of striving or struggle. However, success can also not come from punitive and harsh struggle. We need to reframe our notion and description of happiness in the workplace in order to apply the techniques and principles that foster and nurture happiness and use it to enhance the success of the organizations we work with.

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