Happiness at Work – Applying positive psychology principles to the workplace

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Recently, I discovered something new in the fascinating field of positive psychology.  Positive psychology is the study of happiness and how ordinary people can become happier (Psychology Today).  As a recruiter, I often wonder how jobs and job placements affect employee happiness.

While the field of positive psychology is vast, I came across Martin Seligman’s well-being theory, called PERMA-theory, and it seems to make a lot of sense applied to the workplace.  The acronym stands for five elements that can help people reach a state of happiness and fulfillment: (P) Positive Emotions, (E) Engagement, (R) Relationships, (M) Meaning and Purpose, and (A) Accomplishments.

Positive Emotions

Positive emotions means having the ability to actively focus on the positive.  It reminds me of the Optimist Club back in high school.  It’s that “glass is half full” kind of outlook in daily situations.

In my opinion, there’s no reason a work environment needs to be a negative place.  Are employees supporting each other in positive ways?  Is the leadership positive? When a tough situation occurs, it is handled with an optimistic attitude or a stressful one?  Are there feelings of excitement throughout the day? Does your manager tell you the beatings will continue until morale is improved?


Engagement means how interested people are in the activities at hand.  Are employees actively interested or just doing their jobs because they “have to”?  In other words, do jobs match up with employees’ personal interests?  A highly engaged employee should feel absorbed, enthusiastic, and fully immersed in the task at hand.


Positive psychologist Dr. Christopher Peterson puts it simply, “other people matter.”  Work relationships can fuel employees’ happiness.  A company which fosters and supports employee bonding and relationships will see benefits.  A workplace culture should be one of connection instead of isolation.


Seligman describes meaning as the question “why?”  Why is someone doing this type of work?  Do they feel that they serve a greater purpose? If employees believe their work is meaningful, they will be happier with the work.


Are there things on a daily, monthly, or yearly basis that employees are accomplishing?  Something to take pride in, mention to others, put on a resume?  Feeling like forward progress is made towards a goal can increase happiness.

If these principles don’t help you foster a positive work environment, it may be time to summon the courage to make a career change.

For me, the bottom line is that it’s useful to evaluate whether you are happy at work.  As a recruiting firm, Artemis takes elements from the field of positive psychology into consideration as we match candidates with positions.  An employee who is happy at work will be more productive and will stay in a position longer.

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