How can we be happier?

by | Articles, Leadership, Wellness

Scene One

It was February, 2011. I sipped my morning coffee on a snowy Sunday morning in New Hampshire, snuggled under a down throw on our couch reading Dan Gilbert’s Stumbling on Happiness. My husband Chris caught a glance of me nose deep into my latest weekend read and asked—

“After reading all of those books about happiness, what is the gist? How can we be happier?”

I stopped, put down my coffee alongside Dan Gilbert and turned to my husband with uncertainty. Welllllll…

The truth is, I didn’t know. Yes, I had been studying happiness both formally and informally for years by that point, and yet I didn’t have a succinct and convincing answer for him. I rambled for a while—as I can do— in response to his inquiry. Eventually, his eyes glazed over and walked away. I, on the other hand, felt called to find a better answer.  

Fast forward one year…


Scene Two

It was May, 2012. The UPenn campus was a buzz. Graduation day! A year’s worth of work— reading, writing, studying, applying, traveling between NH and PA every.damn.month— was all worth it. I finally had my answer to Chris’ provocative question. I had gone straight to the source to get it. I studied under the founding father of the field of positive psychology, Dr. Marty Seligman and his brilliant colleagues. It had been a year-long journey of inspiring (and exhausting) work, and I finally had my answer for Chris.

Nine years later…



Since then, I have been partnering with leaders in business to apply positive psychology research in their efforts to maximize their positive impact in and on their businesses. What I have witnessed first hand is this- What makes people thrive is also what makes leaders successful. This shouldn’t be a huge surprise to folks. I mean, a business is simply a system of human beings working towards a common goal. And yet, people are often taken aback when I suggest that thriving people yield thriving business results, and not the other way around.

If you are a non-believer that thriving people drive thriving businesses, it’s ALL good. No need to read any further. I will give you the next few minutes of your life back. Go forth and be well!

If, on the other hand, you buy what I am selling, then please stay with me…

What makes a GREAT leader? 

Business leaders are people leaders. Just like anything else, there’s a mixed bag of leaders out there— some are good, some are bad, and most fall somewhere in between. I am not interested in good, bad, or mediocre leaders. I am interested in GREAT leaders, those leaders who are capable of creating 10X impact for their people and for their businesses as a result. 


GREAT leaders INSPIRE their people to be extraordinary in pursuit of a common goal.


Enter stage left, Positive Psychology, the science of well-being. In order to lead greatly, it is fundamental that leaders live greatly. So, what does that look like? What can we do to be happier, to embody well-being, to thrive as human beings? 

Thanks to Marty and to the work of so many other brilliant researchers in the field, I can confidently report that the following 5 elements in concert contribute to human flourishing…

Positive Emotion. Ok, so this won’t come as a surprise. People who experience more positive emotion than negative emotion experience greater well-being. What may surprise you, is that we need to experience at least 3x more positive emotion than negative emotion consistently to start to rewire our negativity bias. Yikes, that’s a lot of positive juju! 

The good news is that positive emotion isn’t limited to joy (happy, happy, joy, joy). Thanks to Barb Fredrickson’s research on positivity, we know that positive emotion includes some other really cool emotions too— gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.

So, go out and get after it… Pick your favorite emotion, and do something to dial it up on the daily! 

Engagement. Have you heard of the term flow? That’s the really cool psychological state we find ourselves in from time to time when we are so engrossed in what we are doing that we lose track of time, or time speeds up, or maybe—just maybe—we forget to eat lunch.

Flow guru, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (pronounced chick-sent-me-hi), found that in order to tap into our flow, we must be doing something that we genuinely enjoy doing, that we’re good at doing, and that we are challenged by doing. The task cannot be too easy so that it doesn’t demand all of our attention, nor can it be too hard so that we are tempted to give up. Do work like that, and your days are sure to fly by! 

Here’s your homework… Identify an activity (in your work or otherwise) that you like, that you are good at, and that stretches you to your growth edge, and BAMM, you will find your flow. 

Speaking of flow, the last couple of hours flew by, and this is getting to be a really long blog post. If you are interested to learn about the other 3 elements that contribute to well-being and help to build a solid foundation for GREAT leadership, come back to find Part 2! 

…coming soon to a browser near you… 


Until then, go out, feel good, and find your flow!


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