I was fortunate to have the opportunity to spend some time on the phone with Michelle Gielan this week. I loved our conversation.
Michelle is the author of Broadcasting Happiness and, along with Shawn Achor, author The Happiness Advantage (one of the great books I read during the last few years) has created Inspire Happiness, a PBS special airing this month and again in March.
Michelle began her career as a broadcaster, and as she became frustrated with the way news programs feature a constant stream of negativity, she decided to figure out a better way. Her research led her to uncover the way we are all constantly transmitting information to the people around us, and the messages we choose to broadcast, create success or hold us back.
In addition to discussing some of the important ideas from her book and the PBS special , I was fascinated by her ability to help me understand, in a deeper way, the power of some of the happiness strategies I already use.
For example, I told Michelle about someone I know who insists that everyone in his company start every meeting by going around the room and talking about their achievements. Michelle told me, “He is having a significant effect on their brain. They are focusing on positives, getting to know each other better, and seeing others through a positive lens. And because they know it’s coming (they know they are going to be asked to do this at every meeting), they positively catalog their day.”
That reminded me of a similar experience of mine.
In early 2014, in order to make sure I was focusing on the most important tasks at work, I began to maintain a list of achievements each day, with a requirement of no less than one significant area of progress—no matter how distracted I got, no matter how mired I got in the minutia that can often derail best intentions.
At first, I was doing it at the end of each day. As Michelle said about the other example, because I knew it was coming, I often found myself cataloging my days as the achievements were happening—creating more happiness for myself all day.
Toward the end of our discussion, I asked Michelle how this year’s divisive presidential election relates to her work on broadcasting happiness. She told me about work she has done in partnership with Arianna Huffington. Not surprisingly, they found negative news hurts our happiness.
However, when negative news is paired with a discussion of actual or potential solutions (for example, a report on hungry people paired with suggestions on what you can do in your community to help alleviate the problem), the result is increased creative problem solving abilities and significantly improved moods.
That got me thinking about a silver lining from the craziness of this year’s presidential campaign: how many people are more engaged. I, for one, have never been more aware of what’s going on. I’ve also gotten more involved than ever by creating this habit: when I see something disturbing, I look into how I can make a difference. It may involve time, it may involve money (for example donating to others who have a better ability to create change in that domain), or it may involve making others aware.
As Michelle explained to me, whichever of these solutions I take when I hear negative news, I will not only be helping others, and the world at large, but also my own happiness.
You can watch a preview of Michelle’s Inspire Happiness special here.
What are some ways you can inspire happiness? Please join the conversation with your comments…