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Is Happiness harmful to your career?


Positivity is my passion! I have been studying positive psychology and coaching for many years. Recently, I had the opportunity to put it all together (along with 20 years of experience in the corporate world) to create Positivity Catalyst, a one-month workshop that increases positivity at work, even in countries like Greece!


Whenever I get the chance, I love presenting Positivity Catalyst and talking about the fascinating findings of Positive Psychology! It is usually then, towards the end of the presentation, that I hear this question:

  • "But, at work one needs to be aggressive and passionate to succeed. How can Positive / Happy employees survive? Aren't they easy-going, relaxed and low-profile?"


Indeed, succeeding at work is often translated into winning battles on your way to the top. Proving yourself better than the competition (usually your peers) and convincing seniors or the board that you can take the heat and can get the job done. Doesn't this require high energy, aggressiveness and passion? How on earth could a happy person do this? Wouldn't he/she be too nice, easy-going, relaxed to succeed at work?


As I often say at class, let's take a step back. What kind of people succeed at work? and what are their skills? In the corporate world one would simply say: "We need leaders! People with strong leadership qualities." Now, what does this mean?

In a recent article at Harvard Business Review, leaders (vs. managers) are:

  • creating value (not just measuring the value that already exists)

  • influencing others (not just exert power on others/subordinates)

  • inspiring, motivating and enabling others to contribute to organizational success


After all wasn't M.K. Gandhi a great leader, when he inspired millions of people to fight for their rights, and he walked shoulder to shoulder with them so India could achieve independence in 1947?


Successful companies today develop / hire leaders that don't just look professional, or present themselves with high energy. Marketing, after all, is only one side of the spectrum. Leaders need not just perform, but also should influence, inspire, motive and enable as many people as possible  (not just employees) to add value to the organization.


So, let's separate optics from essence. Let me pause here to make myself clear. Optics are important. The first impression we have of someone is framed in just seconds and it is hard to change! It is often quoted that "perception is reality". Indeed, how you are perceived is important and should not be ignored. But it is not enough. To pursue a successful career in today's corporate world, you need to be:

  • more understanding and less authoritative

  • more resilient and less aggressive

  • more emotionally smart and less intellectual

  • more consistent in values / behavior and less results driven

  • more of a listener and less of a speaker


All the above are traits that describe positive / happy people. People that take a step back, keep calm, remember their dreams, maintain energy in the long run and take care of themselves and of others. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that: 

  • Happier (optimistic) CEOs foster a more positive work-climate, which in turn improves organizational productivity - Foster, J. B., Hebl, M. R., West, M., & Dawson, J. (2004). 

  • Happier CEOs receive higher performance ratings from chairpersons of their boards and head companies with greater returns on investment -  Pritzker, M. A. (2002). 

  • Happy employees earn more -  Diener, E., & Biswas-Diener, R. (2002).


So if you are looking for next steps to support your career focus on the essence. Focus on Positivity!

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