by Gabriele Oettingen
Review by Doug Hensch
Several years ago, I set out to build a suite of online tools to help people become happier and more resilient. The plan was to use what we have learned in the last 40 years from the field of Positive Psychology to help people.
Prior to this effort, I co-founded a start-up web site that did just this. We had over 100,000 individuals sign up with several thousand paying fees for additional functionality. People were active on the site and getting happier. In addition, our growth trajectory was fantastic and conversion rates that were way above industry standards. I felt confident that I could duplicate this and build a new, great company on a shoestring budget. All I needed was a little positive thinking, right? Unfortunately, the site didn’t take off and I wasted thousands of dollars on the effort…
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In 1981, Marcus Dupree was being recruited to play football at most of the nation’s top collegiate programs. Most experts and coaches said that, in fact, he was the most highly recruited high school player ever. And, the praise did not stop there. These same experts and coaches said that Dupree was probably the best running back – EVER! This is a pretty big claim. And, it’s a heavy burden for a 17-year old kid out of Philadelphia, Mississippi.
ESPN’s 30 for 30 documentary series recently told Dupree’s story. It was titled, “The Best That Never Was.” From what I can remember about Dupree (I was only 10 at the time but an avid football fan) and from reading the title, I was expecting a real-life story about another troubled athlete who missed an opportunity to be his best. In fact, the first 75 minutes painted this exact picture: recruiting violations, his mother getting a new house from his university, getting out of shape, getting injured from being out of shape, forfeiting a scholarship at the University of Oklahoma, and on, and on… I felt some sympathy for Dupree but quickly squashed those emotions when I realized that he was making some very poor decisions. A brutal knee injury ended his pro football career almost before it began. And, of course, almost all of his earnings were squandered.
Years ago, when I was trying to find the “right” job, a friend of mine said, “Doug, you’re looking for happiness in the wrong place.” And, conventional wisdom would say that, in a severe recession, just be happy that you have a job. Layoffs are still happening. The recovery is apparently slowing down, and new jobs are not being created at the rate that most would like to see. But, this does not change the fact that job satisfaction still matters for employers and employees.
Second, dissatisfied workers are more likely to look for employment elsewhere. Some experts estimate that employee turnover can cost as much 150% of an employees’ base salary. Show me a CEO that wouldn’t want to save on that expense!
Finally, we spend more hours at work than with family, friends, or on leisure activities. Studies show that we actually find more ‘flow’ at work where it is sometimes easier to pursue specific, meaningful goals.
Why don’t your prospective employers, clients, and other key players follow up with you when they say they will? Don’t they take you seriously?
Let’s say you just had your best job interview ever. All the stars were aligned. Your responses to the recruiter’s questions by phone were pitch perfect. Then, on the big interview with the boss, your conversation was seamless. You were not only on the same page—you could have co-written the book. Your exchanges with her colleagues were in sync too. Later, the recruiter calls to tell you you’re a frontrunner. When will you find out if you got the job? In a week, you’re told.
A week passes and no word. As hard as you try not to slow down your search while you’re waiting, you’re tired of looking for a job. All the more so if you’re an introvert. The process of constantly reaching out is especially draining for you. Not to mention your preference to immerse yourself in your work rather than talk about your stellar accomplishments (repeatedly, while networking, in cover letters, and on interviews).
The upshot of my last post here on Some Bosses Live in a Fool’s Paradise is that the best bosses stay in tune with how their words and deeds are construed by their followers, but there is a lot about being a human being and wielding power over others that makes such perspective-taking difficult.
One area where self-awareness is particularly hard to gain has to do with one’s level of assertiveness. Bosses often can’t tell when they’re pushing people too hard versus not challenging them sufficiently. But as research conducted at Columbia University by Daniel Ames and Frank Flynn suggests (see this pdf), striking the right balance between being too assertive and not assertive enough is immensely important to being (and being perceived as) a great boss.
Does kindness have a proper place at the office? Or is it found mostly on a stool in the corner with a small but definite dunce cap?
On the one hand, employees might be inspired by the likes of the Dalai Lama, who said, “This is my simple religion—Our own brain, our own heart is our temple; the philosophy is kindness.” On the other hand, the Dalai Lama never had to make his numbers.
Kindness, it turns out, is controversial.
“Kindness is not a word I would use in my trainings,” one executive development coach insists. “The leaders at the level on which I work don’t relate to it, because it describes a social value. The closest we come is an emphasis on creating a respectful workplace, avoiding sexual harassment, racial intolerance, or gender bias.”
Good, of course, but not exactly the tender offer of kindness. Perhaps it’s that very sense of tenderness that gives kindness its image problem. One female litigator described her own wariness regarding warm civility: “If a male is pleasant and easy to work with, he’s regarded as a nice guy. But if I extend opposing counsel a common courtesy, say, on a scheduling matter where he has a legitimate conflict, I am often seen as a pushover, and that works against my client’s interests. I can’t afford to be seen as a pleaser.”