Positive psychology? Are you sure? 

By  Lysette Offley

Here’s a hilarious talk by Shawn Achor, psychologist, about positive psychology and what it can do for us.


What does positive psychology tell us about optimism and happiness?

Here are a few points from “Pursuing Happiness: The Architecture of Sustainable Change”, by Sonja Lyubomirsky, 2005. You’ll find loads of references here to the pertinent research – if that’s your bag.


Positive psychology? Are you sure? Photo of 2 happy boysTwo traits most closely linked to well-being, are:

Neuroticism: worry, rumination and guilt


Extraversion: social engagement, enthusiasm and self-confidence,

So what sort of ‘vert’ are you?

Introvert, extravert or ambivert?

People tend to stay at the same levels of each, just as we tend to stay at the same level of happiness over time, despite life’s ups and downs and momentary pluses and minuses.

It is thought we have something like a set point for happiness, and very little will budge us from it for long.

The hedonic treadmill

Indeed, it is well known that the joy of winning the lottery is a short-lived affair, and after one year, lottery winners are no happier than anyone else.

And generally speaking, our society enjoys more wealth than it did 50 years ago, and yet people report being pretty much at the same happiness level as they were before.

Conversely, and it’s just as well, amputees and victims of paralysis often report higher levels of happiness than one might expect if our happiness depended on our surroundings and circumstances.

Humans quickly adapt to change, and while new circumstances can indeed cause people to feel happier or feel sadder, we adjust so the effects of those circumstances fade over time.

We habituate.

The pursuit of happiness

Positive psychology? Are you sure? Photo of happy painted womanRows and rows of books in any bookshop illustrate how mad keen we are to become happier, and indeed the social and health benefits are many.

  • Higher chance of marriage
  • Lower chance of divorce
  • More friends
  • Stronger social support
  • Richer social interaction
  • Greater creativity
  • Increased productivity
  • Higher quality of work
  • Higher income
  • Better mental health
  • Better physical health
  • Greater self-control
  • Greater self-regulation
  • Better coping skills
  • A longer life
  • More cooperative
  • More charitable
  • More empathetic

Do you know…?

Positive psychology? Are you sure? - photo of a thumbs upWhat predicts success at work? Which sales staff outperformed the others by 19% in the first year and a whopping 57% in the second?

It’s not intelligence and technical skills, which predict long-term job success, but optimism, your social relationships and your perception of stress.

Students too, while working as hard as they can for their exams, need to focus on developing optimism and happiness if they want to give themselves the best chance of finding a good job, And keeping it.

Be More Successful: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Do It


Sonja Lyubomirsky finds that “trying to become happier may be as futile as trying to become taller” and that sometimes pursuing happiness can backfire if you believe it’s something ‘out there’ that you are trying to reach, instead of consciously enjoying each moment that comes.

You know what I mean.

“I’ll be happy when…”


“I don’t know what I want, but I won’t be happy till I get it!”

So what will make us happier?

Positive psychology? Are you sure? Photo of grandparents on holidayPerhaps it’s time to take a leaf out of our parents’ book, because more happiness can be developed over time and is, apparently, by the majority of people. Is that I wonder, because we begin to focus more on what’s really important to us as time goes on?

Older people it seems, structure their lives and aim for goals that generate more positive emotions. Their goals are selected deliberately to be more enjoyable and more appropriate to their values.

Perhaps they learn to stop sweating the small stuff?

It’s in your genes

“Oh, but I was born this way!”

Yeah – maybe so,

After all it is estimated by different people that between 50% and 90% of your tendency to optimism or pessimism is inherited, it is by no means locked.

Unless you’re determined to maintain a fixed mindset.

Interesting reading from Shawn Achor

Improve your levels of optimism and happiness levels and become more successful with positive psychology.

Be More Successful: New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Do It

Positive psychology - Image of book: The Happiness Advantage


So they say that winning money doesn’t make you happy.

For long.

I concur! We recently stumbled into our own experiment… (Mind you, a sample of one might be considered, at best, a start!)

Once in a blue moon, we remember to have a flutter on the Grand National horse race. It’s a good job we don’t make a habit of it…

We were momentarily almost jubilant(!) at winning £8, but it was indeed short-lived. Although, in the interests of scientific rigour, that might have had more to do with the fact that we also lost £12 in the same race!!


How are your levels of happiness? Do you use positive psychology to feel better? Everyone needs some way of making themselves feel OK. What’s yours?

Please leave me a comment and let me know.

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Lysette Offley

Genius Maker & Founder of Genius Material and The Genius Principles. Working with professionals who need exceptional academic & professional development.

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