At a four-day conference of the International Positive Psychology Association, the 1300 attendees heard three insights that challenged their assumptions about the things we all want most from life; health, success and happiness.
The first insight; You don't have to be charismatic to succeed. In the past, researchers focused on how much influence or information employees managed to amass in their organization. They saw a vast network of interconnections, with the most influential and knowledgeable workers at the center. But University of Michigan professor and pioneer in the field of positive organizational psychology, Kim Cameron, tried a new theory; relational energy. Relational Energy is how much your interactions with others motivate, invigorate, and energizes them. The result was amazing. Relational Energy theory predicted job performance four times better than networks based on influence or information. What this means is that having a positive and energizing influence on others seems to be much more important to what you achieve at work than getting people to do what you want or hoarding business secrets. Mr. Cameron's research also found that positive energizers are also more grateful, trustworthy, humble, authentic, and forgiving. Relational Energy isn't like charisma or attractiveness; it is something than can be learned and cultivated.
The second insight; We stink at motivating people to be healthy. We often read in the media these days that we stress out too much and work out too little. But according to Alia Crum, a professor at Stamford University, these messages may have the exact opposite effect on on us. Her research shows that what we believe about our bodies...our mindset...can actually have a physical effect on our bodies! In a series of studies that are hard to believe, she found that 1. stress creates an unhealthier physical response when we believe that stress is bad for us; 2. how we think our exercise level compares to others' affects our risk of death beyond our actual level of activity; 3. the same drink affects our hunger hormones differently depending on whether we believe it's healthy or indulgent and; 4. hotel maids improve their eight loss and blood pressure after simply learning that their work involves exercise. What this translates into is that if we're told our lifestyles are unhealthy, it can become a self-fulfilling prophecy! So what's the solution? Crum suggests we focus on making healthy lifestyles more appealing, rather than on the harmful effects of the unhealthy lifestyle. One suggestion she offers up from an upcoming study, is to give vegetable dishes more appealing names, instead of focusing on the fact that they're low calorie or sugar-free. This new study shows that cafeteria diners chose more vegetable dishes if they were given jazzy and delicious-sounding names that didn't focus on health benefits.
The third insight; Your life may be more meaningful than you think. Do you find yourself searching for more meaning in your life? Laura King, a professor at the University of Missouri cites new research that shows little things can increase our sense of meaning. These can include such simple things as seeing images of trees in the passing of seasons, being reminded of morning-related words like sunrise, pancakes, and even bacon, in the morning, and having more routine in our lives. I know the word bacon makes me happy, whenever I hear it! On the flip side of the coin, Ms King found that humans sense of meaning is resilient to adversity. She argues that there is no crises of meaning in the world; meaning isn't reserved for special or 'transcendent' moments. She believes that it is part and parcel of human life. Humans just need to open their eyes to it. "People don't need to know how to make their lives meaningful," she says, "they need to know that they already are." She goes on to say that when humans (and frogs) believe in the meaningfulness of their lives, they unlock the benefits of more positive feelings and better relationships.
Although there are still many unanswered questions, the notion that our lives already have 'structure, predictability, and meaning' is a thought-provoking one.
I know my eyes have been opened a little wider by this. I hope it's given you a little something to think about, too, as you head off to work.