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Psychology

Meaningful Beginnings Begin with Positive Emotions

By SONNY WONG - February 27 2024
Meaningful Beginnings Begin with Positive Emotions

The beginnings of the new year are a common time for some of us to re-examine our life’s purpose. Some of us establish new life goals while others re-evaluate existing aspirations. A Happy New Year greeting by others can bring on pressures for some people to do better. What is that definition of better? Is it a better job? Is it to gain better professional opportunities? Is it to have a better healthier lifestyle? Positive psychologists believe that the nexus for goal setting and goal achievement lies with using our positive emotions as fuel to attaining those goals. In short, happy people are more likely to achieve success compared to less happy people but successful people are not more likely to be happier than those who are not successful.

What is Happy? If you have decided that your goal for 2024 is to be happier, you may be surprised that only some level of happiness is within your control. Getting that fancy job or promotion is a happy feeling that won’t last forever. According to many Psychologists, they have discovered something called the ‘set point to happiness’. The premise is that our level of happiness and well-being is a fixed average level of happiness around our day to day. As a matter of fact, 50% of our happiness-level is genetically passed down to us. Let us say you rate yourself as a 7 out of 10 as being happy on a scale, where 1 is unhappy and 10 is happy. And if you are the type of person who wishes for external factors to become happier – that new job, promotion and/or pay increases, then YES! You may move from 7 or 7.5/10 scale after those events. But guess what? Over time, you will lower back to your base line of a 7 – because that number is actually due to your genetics. The positive external factors only attribute to another 10% of the happiness set-point. 

Does it mean that some people are just bored with their happiness endowment lottery? The answer is ‘NO’. The other 40% of happiness lies at how we utilize our thoughts and actions in our daily routines. Happiness is not an endowment lottery but rather a muscle. We can increase our happiness muscle-mass through what we think and then how we act with our thoughts during our day. This is not just about positive thinking! We have to learn how to challenge our negative automatic thoughts through close reflections. This way, we can adjust our behavior to engage in more pro-social activities and thereby increase our level of happiness. For example, you were interviewing for a job that you really want but did not get that opportunity. The negative automatic thought and action could be, “I will never be good enough…I won’t look for work anymore!” But if we challenge the thought, we may just change our actions: “I got to the interview stage which means that this employer is interested in my skills and talents…I wondered who I can get to help me perform better during the next job interview because many people are looking for work like myself and I want to present myself better.” The first example hinders the growth of positive emotions, while the other second example uses positive emotions as fuel to persist in tough times. Positive emotions protect us from weakening our career well-being levels.

What is Career Well-Being? 

One way of increasing happiness is looking at the concept: ‘job vs. career’. A simple definition of job is a person earning an income to meet their basic survival needs. The concept of career (includes) work-related activities which contributes to the actual growth of the occupational field. For some people, having a job is just fine. While others want a career. A careful evaluation of your life-needs would let you know what you want. Many people find employment to meet their survival needs to make time for more vital contributions within their life stage. They have chosen non-career work positions which give them enough security/flexibility to attend to family responsibilities, healthy, lifelong learning, and social engagements. On the other hand, there are individuals who thrive to find joy in their work because they have chosen to make contribution to the advancing in career.  Take note that Positive Psychologists define career well-being as work/activities which achieve a purpose or meaning for an individual – and it is up to the individual to define meaning through activities such as: hobbies, volunteerism, formal/informal educational activities. 

How you define your purpose affects your happiness level in enormous ways because it can generate excitement, satisfaction, inspirations thereby giving you the mental energies to fuel other well-being domains, such as: relationships, community and health which are just as important to your happiness. It is up to the individuals to assess their own life, interests, values and priority to achieve career well-being through purposeful activities. If we only focus on status and prestige of work tasks, then we are only focusing on the 10% of external factors to building our happiness. If your job does not bring you full happiness or if you are not looking to be happier in your career – it is okay – remember to look at other activities which are purposeful and meaningful to maintain your level of career well-being.

Why should I thrive? It is difficult to think beyond the next day if our present-day energies are dedicated to accomplishing basic survival needs while we are unhappy. But the principle of working on the 40% actions and thoughts in order to thrive, does not have to be a big deal. It can be simply engaging in initiatives that already exist – for example at work – your smile to a colleague can actually make you feel better. Small steps help to build a bigger step. Another example since we have survived through lockdown, is offering a neighbor to care for their children, when you and your child are going down to the park. Researchers who study job-seekers and/or employees found that individuals with higher level of happiness have a competitive advantage. In the interview arena – happier people are more likely to be granted interviews. With career mobility – happier people are more likely be assigned managerial responsibilities leading to promotions. With employment duration – happier people regardless of organizational morale are likely to maintain steady employment. And here is another interesting finding – happier people are less likely to engaging in counter-productive activities, such as, quitting or gossiping. These are huge competitive advantages to thriving, to finding joys and thereby improving your overall mental health. Sometimes we think of thriving in the career wellbeing domain to be restricted only within our organizations or work roles…but if we think of maximizing our career well-being, it can be just about doing some simple things.

Here are 10 tips from positive psychologists to help you build those happiness muscle to increase your wellbeing and professional successes. 

  1. Do extra acts of kindness today by paying a compliment, or make someone smile.
  2. Make more time for the people who matter by calling your parents or playing with the kids or helping someone.
  3. Get off the bus a stop early, take the stairs, turn off the TV, go for a walk – anything that increases your activity.
  4. Notice and appreciate good things around you every day, big or small. 
  5. Do something for the first time, such as: new route to go to the store or walk
  6. Tell a friend about an aspiration that is really important to you this year and listen to theirs too.
  7. When something is troubling you, puta time limit on reminiscing about it and then do something you really enjoy to shift your mood. 
  8. Do something that you know will make you feel good, such as: listen to music, watch something funny, and get outside. 
  9. Be as kind to yourself as you are to others. Notice things you do well, however small.
  10. Feel part of something bigger by paying a visit to an inspiring location, gaze at the stars or join a club.

So happy new year’s readers – now knowing what you know – which tip do you want to integrate to the 40% of your thoughts and actions? Allow yourself to implement one tip in the beginning and before you know it 2024 will be a flourishing year for you.

Sonny Wong is a Registered Psychotherapist with a specialization in helping individuals foster their healthy career identity development through co-constructing manageable and meaningful action plans.


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