happiness Q+A

The importance of positivity, put forth by an expert

Michelle GielanScreen Shot 2016-03-16 at 2.58.13 PM is a former national CBS anchor, positive psychology researcher and the author of bestselling book Broadcasting Happiness, which sheds light on the science of igniting and sustaining positive change. A champion for thinking about and changing the way we communicate, she has partnered with Arianna Huffington to study how transformative studies fuel success, and has been a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. BRIKA spoke with Michelle about perceptions of female leaders in the workplace, how to stay positive amidst the onslaught of negative news and the art of drawing inspiration from a spectrum of attitudes.

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You put forth that our collective mindset is a reflection of the information we consume. But in a society where it’s oftentimes difficult to block out the negative news that gets transmitted through the media, how do you find positivity within the gloomy clutter? Is there a way to transcend that mentality in the workplace? 

​Just like we are what we eat, our mindset is a reflection of the news we consume. In a study I recently completed with Arianna Huffington and researcher Shawn Achor, we found that three minutes of negative news in the morning can lead to a 27% higher likelihood of reporting your day as unhappy 6-8 hours later. Often people who realize that negative news can have a damaging effect on their health and happiness will cut out news altogether. But putting our heads in the sand means we run the risk of being uninformed. The strongest path is to actively seek out information that informs and nourishes us. That includes stories that provide news we can use to live better lives, showcase people who have overcome challenges, or remind us that behavior matters in the face of challenges. Solution-focused stories move our brain from problem to solution, and that can be incredibly powerful in empowering us to take positive action in our own lives, especially in the midst of challenges.

You maintain that it can be difficult to be a positive female leader without being perceived as unreasonably optimistic, a perception based on gendered notions. Do you think this is changing? 

​Yes, and each woman who chooses to be expressive of her positive mindset sets the stage for more women to do the same. Whether the woman is the head of a multinational company, a designer of a clothing line or a mom, being positive is good for her and the people around her. Positivity can come in many forms, including praising coworkers, celebrating small successes, and generally being upbeat. And it doesn’t have to be “rah-rah” like a cheerleader. One can express a positive mindset in a calm sincere way and sometimes be more effective that being high energy. Every time we focus on the positive parts of life, we help others do the same and fuel their success and happiness.

What are words that you live by and why?

​My high school motto was “Find a way or make one.” I think this line of thinking propelled me to be an engineer originally, which required resourcefulness above all else as I tried to solve problems.​ As I switched careers to journalism, that motto helped me pivot and iterate until I achieved my goal to become a national news anchor. I always saw possibility before me, and that propelled me to find a way to hit my goals, even if I needed to make the way to the finish line.

Do you think that happiness is necessary to be inspired? Is there a way to turn negativity into something in which we can find inspiration? 

​There are some people who draw inspiration from low moods or anger. I think that can be an important motivation, especially when we are using our work to create positive change. On the other side, happiness and the lightness that comes with it can help us soar.​ There is beauty all around us, and if we are miserable and moreover prizing that negative mindset in the long term, I think we miss out on a part of our reality that could actually take us far. Both negativity and positivity serve an important purpose, but I’d personally rather spend more time in a state of happiness. The ride seems much more fun that way.

Print in main image courtesy of BRIKA Maker Ellen Evered Designs

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