In theory: Positive psychology

Emma De Vita's weekly look at management-speak.

Positive psychology is a recently espoused theory that claims it's as important to concentrate on the positives in life as it is on fixing the problems. It boils down to answering that age-old question of how to be happy. And a large part of this comes down to how you feel about your job.

Martin Seligman, a US academic, was one of the first to popularise positive psychology in his 2002 book Authentic Happiness. A slew of tomes have since been published on the subject, including Richard Reeves' Happy Mondays: Putting the Pleasure Back Into Work and economist Richard Layard's book Happiness: Lessons from a New Science. There's even a world database of happiness in Rotterdam.

Work is no longer simply about earning a crust and getting on with the nine to five. Now it has to be about self-fulfilment and giving meaning to your life. Happiness is fast becoming an obsession for HR bods, who are trying to infuse some ephemeral pleasure into the daily grind.

But don't they know that the pursuit of happiness is the one thing guaranteed to make you miserable? You can't force someone to be happy in their work. Yet experts in this new field say that meaning and pleasure in your work are integral to having a purpose in life and experiencing positive emotions.

So what do you do when faced with the prospect of having to ensure that your team is high on happiness? Apparently, 50 per cent of someone's work satisfaction comes from their relationship with their boss. So give your employees realistic goals, because achieving them will give them a sense of fulfilment. Communicate positively and effectively, and give your staff as much freedom from control as you dare.

What about your own happiness? Bad luck if you're a middle manager - they're commonly known to be the most miserable employees, stuck with managing upwards and downwards. It's better to be on the shop floor. Anyone for downsizing?

- Emma De Vita is editor of the books pages on Management Today.

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