The workplace is not always seen as positive. In a post-pandemic world, many were dreading a return to the office. The comforts and ease of home are too appealing. Working in an office means wearing shoes, sharing a bathroom, and hearing other people eat their lunch. So how can we prepare ourselves to cope with the challenges of the workplace?
Positive psychology is a relatively new area of study in psychology. Historically, psychology explored mental illness rather than health. Positive psychology and its founder Martin Seligman, felt the focus on illness ignored the most crucial question, how can we achieve robust mental health? Positive psychology studies and identifies the conditions under which humans thrive. What choices, relationships, and institutions support a successful and happy life?
As a significant amount of life may be lived in the workplace, positive psychology can help us to enjoy it.
There are many resources on how management can use positive psychology to increase productivity. These suggestions range from building employee resilience to nap pods. If we are lucky, we will work for a boss who understands the principles of positive psychology. But, even if we do, the wheels of change can take time, and we will still have to wear shoes. So how can the individual use positive psychology to help them thrive while at work?
"Positive subjective experience" is a pillar of positive psychology. This refers to how an individual interprets their experience. For example, do they find the morning meeting an enjoyable time of connection or an irritating necessity?
Positive psychology has identified 24 character traits that serve to increase feelings of well-being. Character traits like bravery, joy, and interest are on the list. We will understand "positive subjective experience" and well-being as interchangeable ideas for our purposes. Research has found a few of these character traits more beneficial to well-being than others. These were: hope, zest, curiosity, gratitude, and love.
If these traits improve personal experience and well-being, cultivating them in the workplace must be beneficial.
Hope is an expectation or desire for specific future events. In the workplace, hope can look like setting an intention for the day. For example, intending to have good feeling interactions and experiences all day. It can also be the hope that this work will be temporary. It is a brief stop-over before the next more fulfilling job.
Do you know who is zesty? Children and retirees. This may be because they don't work, or it's because they are either too young or too old to worry much. Zest in the workday can look like focusing on the task at hand and creating a sense of enthusiasm and fun. You could race a timer, count the number of times 'circle back' is said in a meeting, or imagine you are a Russian spy gathering intel on the American worker.
Curiosity asks what can be learned in a situation. Maybe your curiosity can investigate other aspects of your company. It could look like getting to know more about a colleague's personal life. You could be curious about how to arrange your day to be more productive. If your current job isn't a great fit, curiosity could look like wondering what work environment would be more enjoyable.
Gratitude is one of those things that can be cultivated in most circumstances. Unless you are in a forced labor situation, gratitude for the paycheck and all that it can provide for you is an easy place to start. Gratitude for a kind colleague, the refrigerator to keep your lunch in, or the invention of AirPods can be sprinkled throughout your day.
Finally, you can generate gratitude for lessons learned about what you want from your work. Every unpleasant thing is a message about what you would like instead. A challenging job can help you be very clear about what kind of work you would like to do.
The last and perhaps, the most difficult to experience in the workplace is love. It is not emotionally healthy to attempt to love your colleagues like friends and family. Managers who refer to their employees like a family often do more harm than good. But you can generate feelings of self-love and the sense that you are sending love and good vibes to your colleagues.
Before you go into work, find a quiet space to do a short loving kindness mediation. You can find good free guided meditations all over YouTube.
You can also take 5 minutes and imagine a golden bubble of love encircling you. Imagine the golden bubble feels like a combination of getting into a warm bath and an amazing hug. It is pure love. After you have taken a moment to feel the presence of this love bubble, you can visualize absorbing it. Next, see the golden light of the bubble reemerging from your body or aura. Finally, see it expanding to encompass your place business and the people in it. Hold this visual for as long as you would like.
A well-lived life doesn't put work over friends, family, and pleasurable pursuits. However, this does not mean that work can't be a positive experience. Positive psychology investigates how humans can thrive in their many environments. Making efforts to cultivate feelings of hope, zest, curiosity, gratitude, and love can help you thrive in the workplace. Even if you have to wear shoes.
Hausler, M., Strecker, C., Huber, A., Brenner, M., Höge, T., & Höfer, S. (2017). Distinguishing Relational Aspects of Character Strengths with Subjective and Psychological Well-being. Frontiers in psychology, 8, 1159. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2017.01159