“Other People Matter” at Work, says recent Meta-Analysis

woman_tattoo_smilingDo you like the people you´re working with? Do you identify strongly with that group of human beings? Do you even feel that you belong to the larger system of the organization you´re working for? If the answer is yes: Good for you! Because most likely, this will be beneficial for your psychological and physiological health in the long run.

A recent meta-analysis by Niklas K. Steffens (University of Queensland, Brisbane) and colleagues concludes that

both workgroup and organizational identification are associated with individuals’ experience of reduced strain and burnout as well as greater health and well-being.

In short, liking the people we work with on the immediate level (our team) as well as the macro level (the organization as a whole) and experiencing a sense of belonging helps us to stay healthy and sane. From a Positive Psychology point of view, it´s interesting to see that social bonds do help to prevent stress, but even more so, foster the experience of positive outcomes:

Social identification feeds more strongly into the promotion of what is “good for us” than into the prevention of what is “bad for us”. These findings support previous work which has made the point that the absence of stress is not equivalent to the presence of well-being. More specifically, findings are consistent with a psychological conception of positive human health and phenomenological accounts of social identification which suggest that increases in identification capture increases in positive experiences and are therefore related particularly strongly to positive forms of well-being.

Here´s to you, Chris Peterson!

Want to be the Boss? Be Happy, Science says, and you´ll be a Good Leader

Happy BossFor a moment, think about a leadership person (a.k.a. boss) in your life that you really liked working for. How could that person be described, what kind of personality did he/she convey? Was he/she more the grumpy moaner – or rather an upbeat “Sunday´s child”?

Turns out that this question is not only about likeability but also about leadership effectiveness. In a recent meta-analysis* published in The Leadership Quarterly titled Is a happy leader a good leader? A meta-analytic investigation of leader trait affect and leadership, Dana L. Joseph and her colleagues found that – broadly speaking – happier leaders also tend to be more effective leaders. In the words of Joseph and her colleagues:

Our analyses show that leader trait affectivity, particularly leader trait positive affect, plays a significant role in predicting leadership criteria.

A happy boss is a good boss.

They also find that the relationship between leader happiness and effectiveness may not be a direct one. Rather, it seems that happy bosses predominantly engage in a special leadership style that has been coined transformational leadership. As opposed to more traditional leadership styles (telling people what to do and controlling them; management by objectives etc.), transformational leadership, according to Joseph et al., consists of the following dimensions:

  • idealized influence, or the extent to which a leader displays conviction and behaves in a way that causes followers to identify with him/her;
  • inspirational motivation, which involves communicating optimism and challenging followers to meet high standards;
  • intellectual stimulation, or the extent to which a leader takes risks, challenges assumptions, and encourages follower creativity;
  • and individualized consideration, which is characterized by follower mentoring, attending to follower needs, and listening to follower concerns.

Now, does that sound like the behavior of a boss we´d all like to work for? My answer is a clear yes. And it predominantly starts with that person´s happiness.

* A special type of study that statistically aggregates previous study results to provide an overview of a specific branch of research.

Positive Psychology Researcher Todd Kashdan´s 5 Tips to becoming a “killer” Scientist

Todd Kashdan is Associate Professor of Psychology at George Mason University. He conducts research on anxiety, positive emotions, purpose in life, mindfulness, gratitude, how personal strengths operate in everyday life, social relationships, self-regulation, and how to foster and sustain happiness and meaning in life.

Via Psychology Today, he published his recipe for becoming a “killer scientist”. It´s a great piece to read. Here, you´ll find the short version:

Let passions and curiosity be your compass

Don’t look at public opinion polls about what people are studying. Focus on activities that ignite your passion. Don’t study areas because they are hot and sexy. Ask questions that ignite your passion.

Impact is Everything

It is more impactful to get your work featured in an article in Parade magazine than the top journal in your field. Hang around scientists who understand this principle.

Be James Bond (impact part II)

Show your stuff in a way that can be understood by teenagers. Think like a human. Be an exceptional presenter. How? Concrete. Sticky. Stories.

Create Strong Partnerships

Retain people that ensure you stay humble. Be generous by always giving more than you take. Complementarity is righteous.

Create Meaningful Time

Think of work in 15-minute intervals. It´s not complicated. Discipline slowly accumulates into major accomplishments.

Also, you might want to watch his TEDx talk on “Becoming a mad scientist with your life”:

On Positive Psychology, Bullshit, and why you need a Chief Philosophy Officer (CPO)

At our recent onsite at Penn, we had a stimulating discussion on bullshit with James Pawelski – who wears the hat of MAPP´s academic director and at the same time that of Chief Philosophy Officer (CPO). Now the job of a philosopher is to sit in his/her armchair, ask you unnerving questions – and thereby shake the grounds of everything you ever believed in. Or at least something like that … which … probably … is a good thing. I don´t know.

By the way, that´s by far the easiest way to be philosophic: Just say “I don´t know” a lot. But you have to say it in a smirk philosophic kind of tone – or else, you´re just a dumbass who, well, doesn´t know stuff. Which brings me to the question: Do our schools teach us to be anti-philosophers? After all, saying “I don´t know” a lot in class will surely get you in trouble – while a decent capability in the fine art bullshitting can get you at least half-way through your Ph.D. program – and sometimes, published in first-tier journals.

So, I just wanted to write something along the lines of “But I digress…” to lead over to next section. Yet, curiously – I´m already there. Philosophy moves in mysterious ways…

When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off.

Positive Psychology = BullshitWhat is that thing: Bullshit? Well, what I like about philosophers so much is the fact that there are so many of them – and that they´ve started doing what they do (“philosophizing”…) more than 2,500 years ago. So there´s a really good chance that – whenever you have a question or a problem – some philosopher will already have thought about it. Most certainly, this is true for the subject of bullshit. Harry G. Frankfurt, professor emeritus of Princeton, has written a witty (and for a philosophical piece) pleasantly short and graspable essay on that overdue topic.

The essay starts with the skillfully crafted sentence “One of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” and then moves on to explain why that could be the case; to finally define the nature of bullshit – especially in its relationship to adjacent concepts such as “truth” and “lie”. The following section represents a good synopsis of Frankfurt´s argument:

It is impossible for someone to lie unless he thinks he knows the truth. Producing bullshit requires no such conviction. A person who lies is thereby responding to the truth, and he is to that extent respectful of it. When an honest man speaks, he says only what he believes to be true; and for the liar, it is correspondingly indispensable that he considers his statements to be false. For the bullshitter, however, all these bets are off: he is neither on the side of the true nor on the side of the false. His eye is not on the facts at all, as the eyes of the honest man and of the liar are, except insofar as they may be pertinent to his interest in getting away with what he says. He does not care whether the things he says describe reality correctly. He just picks them out, or makes them up, to suit his purpose.

So where does Positive Psychology fit in here? And why is it really a good thing (I´m being honest to Flying Spaghetti Monster here!) to have a CPO somewhere at your side?

The truth is: a lot of the subjects in Positive Psychology sound like pure bullshit on the face of it. We´re all about well-being, happiness, virtues, meaning, and other fuzzy wishy-washy touchy-feely stuff. It is quite easy to get carried away in those diffuse realms of the conditio humana.* What separates Positive Psychology as a science from all that self-help literature out there is … well, that it´s a science. We give our best to approach that touchy-feely stuff with double-blind experiments, large-scale, and longitudinal research designs. We like to sell our pudding, point well-taken, but want to make sure first that there is enough scientific proof to it.

Our CPO James Pawelski really helps us to stay “grounded” while wrestling with all those new and exciting Positive Psychology concepts. He supports us in sharpening our minds while moving forward on our learning journey. He never gets tired of reminding us to be careful about what we say, how we say it, and to be aware of the assumptions our newfound knowledge is based upon.

And: he can talk for three hours nonstop just about the different meanings of the word “positive” in Positive Psychology. It´s a beautiful thing to behold.

What he does is absolutely essential. Already, there are prominent people out there that seem not to be able (or willing…) to grasp the difference between ordinary self-help lingo and the science of Positive Psychology. All the more we have to be careful. We have to know where our very own “red line” is – the one that crosses that grey area where talking about something we sufficiently know and understand turns into bullshitting. In Frankfurt´s words:

Bullshit is unavoidable whenever circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic are more excessive than his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.

Thus, I stop at this point. My knowledge of bullshit is exhausted.


*Throwing in some Latin or Greek in your writing makes you sound very philosophical. Especially, when you say “I don´t know” in Latin or Greek…

PowerPoint slide © James Pawelski; photographed by Katrina Calihan

The crucial Difference between ‘Positive Psychology’ and ‘Positive Thinking’

Here´s a dialogue I´ve gone through a lot of times lately – it goes a long the lines of this:

  • Friend: “Hey Nico, I´ve seen (on Facebook…) that you´re a student again. You´re at Penn, right?”
  • Nico: “Yep.”
  • Friend: “So what are doing?”
  • Nico: “I study positive psychology.”
  • Friend: “Oh yes, positive thinking. I really like that. You know, I´ve read … (substitute all kinds of self-help books by Joseph Murphy, Dale Carnegie, Napoleon Hill, Rhonda Byrne, … , Tony Robbins).
  • Nico: “Duh…”

So, I´m not going to deny that there are a lot of similarities in the subject matters of positive psychology and positive thinking. By way of example, both are concerned with cultivating optimism in individuals, since being optimistic (most of the time) is associated with an array of beneficial outcome variables. So where´s the difference, then?

Here I am, sitting in Jon Huntsman Hall at University of Pennsylvania, listening to some of the most widely-acclaimed psychologists of our time. And there are some sentences which I really hear a lot of the time. Here there are:

  • I was wrong.
  • I changed my mind.
  • I made a mistake.
  • I don´t know.
  • I´m not sure about…
  • We don´t know enough about…
  • We should really be careful to say…

I rest my case.