Management & Organization

Positive psychology

By Thomas Gedde Højland

Feelings are contagious – and the leader's even more so

In relation to this headline it's important to know why it is important to actively use positive psychology in your workday.

A little background information
A new branch of psychology was created, when the American psychologist Martin Seligman in 1998 declared that psychology should be something else and something more than a science that was primarily concerned with why we get sick and how we can cure illness. Positive psychology aims to remove with psychology’s negative focus on illness. For every hundred articles in scientific publications about sadness, depression and suffering there were only one about happiness, positive emotions and (re)building human factors. Positive psychology seeks to correct this disparity by being positive in its approach to the world

Psychology is for everyone, and we must learn to use it actively in our work. Psychology must also address how to make ordinary people stronger and more productive and identify and promote great potential. So positive psychology deals with topic like these:

  • Work
  • Education
  • Love
  • Development
  • The good society
  • Creativity and play

Positive psychology must give us insight into how we are best able to develop and handle challenges on different levels. This grouping of levels has also led to a new way of leading and another way of thinking when challenges arises.

Positive psychology for businesses

Positive psychology has a particularly sharp focus on human strengths, optimal conditions, positive feelings and resilience. One of the most important aspects of positive psychology is that positive feelings makes us more determined, gives us a bigger action repertoire and help to create an increased feeling of belonging in then company, more job satisfaction and not least better performance. The negative feelings has the opposite effect.

What do you remember the best?

When you lost an important client? When you got a new exciting client?
When production was below target? When production was above target?
When 10% were dissatisfied in the satisfaction survey? When 40 % were satisfied in the satisfaction survey?
A conflict in the department? A period of job satisfaction and productivity?
When things were problematic? When things were well functioning?


You'll probably remember the red boxes the best. The bad or the problematic isn't always remembered at the expense of the good and the positive. That would be pretty sad. But it does takes more good experiences to make up for the psychological effect that bad experiences cause. So if you remembered the loss of an important customer as well as the arrival of a new customer, the psychological feeling of loss would still weigh heavier than the arrival of the new customer.

When knowing this, it makes perfect sense that research on positive and negative feelings find that it takes three positive feelings to lift us out of a negative feeling. Thus, research indicate that bad things take up more space than good, and that we must compensate for this when we interact with other people.

What's the goal?

The goal isn't necessarily that everyone in the organization is positive and happy. Compliments are good and it temporarily fills you with a positive feeling, but you may not learn that much from compliments. What you have to do is move a few inches deeper than mere compliments and give ourselves time to be just as systematic when we're looking for the causes of our success, as we are when finding the causes of our failure. Even more importantly, employees and leaders get a feeling of accomplishment when given specific goals faster, more efficient, in a fun way and with a better result by using elements of positive psychology and strength based approaches.