Half Full or Half Empty: How Positive Emotions Help You Thrive

Kol Chu Birke, CFP®
Kol Chu Birke, CFP®

05.27.20 in Culture & Community

Estimated Reading Time: 5 Minutes (842 words)

Culture and Community

Does success create happiness? In these uncertain times, advisors—and our clients—may be questioning ourselves more than ever. And it turns out, we just might have it backwards. According to Shawn Achor, positive psychology advocate and author of The Happiness Advantage, it’s actually our positive emotions, mental health, and resilience that drive our success.

As we navigate a global pandemic and adapt in an industry that continues to evolve, what then can we do to optimize our positive emotions—and help our clients do the same—so we can go from surviving to thriving? In short, we need to create a today we enjoy and a tomorrow we look forward to

Pursuing PERMA-Benefits

Whether you have a specific goal in mind or you’re focused on just feeling better, there are some research-backed investments we can make in our emotional health to help. Martin Seligman, the father of positive psychology and the theory of human flourishing, suggests that we all invest in something he calls PERMA:

  • Positive emotions

  • Engagement

  • Relationships

  • Meaning

  • Accomplishment

These five elements of PERMA build on each other—and by investing in one, you can often improve the others. Here are some practical tips for applying this thinking to help improve both your and your clients’ well-being and amp up your success.

Savor the Positive

Research shows that positive emotions allow us to see a broader range of possibilities and then build on whatever is most beneficial to us. One way to get more positive emotions from our daily lives is by savoring—in short, squeezing more juice from the orange we already have. Social psychologist Fred Bryant suggests these four techniques:

  • Basking: Accepting praise and compliments

  • Thanksgiving: Giving appreciation

  • Luxuriating: Enjoying sensory experiences

  • Marveling: Feeling awe or inspiration

The more we practice savoring, the easier and more automatic it becomes. Here are a few more ways to squeeze the most from that orange:

  • Reflect on the past—look at old photos that take you to joyful times.

  • Be aware in the present—try setting a timer to remind yourself to stop during the day to appreciate something in the moment.

  • Anticipate the future—look forward to something you enjoy, like the take-out meal you’re ordering from a local restaurant that evening.

Engage in Things You Can Control

It’s true: action is often the best antidote to anxiety. To start, shift your focus away from the things you can’t control, and act on the things you can. Through our daily habits, we can nurture healthy areas where we have control—our bodies (by exercising, getting enough sleep, and eating well); our minds (by meditating, engaging in creative activities, and laughing); and our spirits (through social connections, faith, and time in nature). What are some practical steps you and your clients can take? If the nightly news is elevating your stress, turn it off for a few days. If a client is worried about food shortages, perhaps they could plant a small garden.

Strengthen Connections Through Intimacy

While the notion of “intimacy” may sound too personal, connecting in a deep and personal way allows us to create meaningful, lasting relationships with clients and each other. The more clients feel they can be their authentic selves with you—even when things are messy—the more likely they’ll be to lean on you and follow your advice. To get real with your clients, try taking conversations just a bit deeper than you normally do or they expect from you. For example, ask something like, “Where do you draw strength and courage from when you find you need it most?” Or, “What, if anything, are you grateful for these days?” And then let them talk while you quietly listen. You may find that even if they’re initially surprised, they’ll be receptive.

Find Meaning in Purpose

The idea that having a purpose influences your well-being isn’t new. German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche said, “He who has a why can bear almost any how.” Similarly, Viktor Frankl, who was a Holocaust survivor, wrote a phenomenal book called Man’s Search for Meaning where he relates this idea to his experience in concentration camps. Frankl believed that having a purpose (for him, it was helping those in most need by giving them scraps of bread), improved his ability to survive. We usually think of purpose as being something grand or profound. But it doesn’t have to be. We can discover meaning—and help guide clients toward action—by answering the simple question, “What can I do today that could make a difference for someone or something I care about?”

A Marathon, Not a Sprint

The ambiguity and uncertainty of these changing times will continue to put us to the test. And while it may not always feel evident, we can continue to thrive and fuel our success by setting and working toward realistic, attainable goals—both for ourselves and with our clients. If you find yourself stuck, come back to this idea of PERMA. By focusing on these building blocks to create more positive emotions and improve your well-being, it will be much easier to enjoy today and look forward to tomorrow.  

This material is for educational purposes only and is not intended to provide specific advice.

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