LONE STAR LITERARY LIFE: Amy and Michelle, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedules to be interviewed by Lone Star Literary Life. Can you tell us a little bit about what part of Texas you live in, and/or your connection to the state?
MICHELLE: I currently live in Dallas with my husband and fellow happiness researcher Shawn Achor and our son Leo; Amy also lives in the Dallas area. We love Texas and all it has to offer and a lot of our friends and family are here and we are so grateful for this!
Can you each tell us a little about yourselves, and your latest books, both which seem very timely?
Michelle Gielan, national CBS News anchor turned positive psychology researcher, is the best-selling author of Broadcasting Happiness. Broadcasting Happiness showcases how real individuals and organizations have used these techniques to achieve results that include increasing revenues by hundreds of millions of dollars, raising a school district’s graduation rate by 45%, and shifting family gatherings from toxic to thriving.
Changing your broadcast can change your life, your success, and the lives of others around you. Broadcasting Happiness will show you how! Michelle is the founder of the Institute for Applied Positive Research and is partnered with Arianna Huffington to study how transformative stories fuel success. She is an executive producer of “The Happiness Advantage” special on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course.
Michelle holds a Master of Applied Positive Psychology from the University of Pennsylvania, and her research and advice have received attention from The New York Times, Washington Post, Forbes, CNN, FOX, and the Harvard Business Review.
Michelle also says about her career: This is not just a calling. It’s personal too. In my mid-20s, depression took over. My external life was “perfect.” Prestigious job in London. Jet-setting around Europe. Loving boyfriend. Yet I was lost and mentally exhausted. I’ll never forget sitting with shoulders hunched, looking out the window of my apartment, feeling empty and worried that this was the end of the story. One day I started applying the same positive psychology strategies I now research. Not only did I emerge from depression stronger than before, but now I have both an amazing external and internal life.
In general, what do you feel are some key steps that everyone can take to start a new year?
AMY: When it comes to making goals, we need to make them specific. For example, instead of saying, this year “I want to be more positive,” a better goal would be to say ‘Each day I’ll get myself in a positive mindset by finding three new things that I’m grateful for.” When we make our goals specific and targeted we’re more likely to achieve them.
And if you want a more positive mindset this year, one of the top things I’d recommend doing is NOT checking your work email first thing in the morning. It’s something so many of us do and it seems so normal that it’s easy not to give it a second thought, but our research has shown that this can throw off the course of your whole day. We found that people reported having a bad day hours later, after reading even just ONE negative email. And it seemed like if you read a good email and a bad email, the bad one tends to be more powerful in people’s minds. So our research-backed recommendation is to pause before you open your work email and take two minutes and instead write your own positive email to someone praising or thanking them for something they’ve done recently. Not only are you giving them a boost, but you’re also creating a positive boost for yourself and priming your brain for positivity, which acts as a buffer against any negative emails that you might read once you do open your inbox.
Many people are having a difficult time adjusting to a new direction of leadership in our country and in the world. College graduates backed Clinton by a 9-point margin (52%-43%), while those without a college degree backed Trump 52%-44%. The surprise nature of the Trump victory have left many seemingly unmoored. Any advice for those having a hard time adjusting to events out of their control?
MICHELLE: I agree with Amy that there are a lot of people who are feeling disempowered right now. My recommendation would be to seek out transformative journalism. Transformative journalism is activating, engaging, solutions-focused approach to covering the news. It does not ignore serious issues facing our world; it covers them in depth in a way that activates the belief that our behavior matters, enables social engagement from readers and viewers, and provides actionable solutions to the issues covered. So this means that an article goes a step past just presenting the problem but includes actionable steps that the reader can take right now to help and be a part of the solution. This kind of journalism is so important because it doesn't foster a sense of learned helplessness and it helps us actually contribute to making changes. Some of resources for transformative journalism are Huffington Post’s “What’s Working” and CNN’s “Impact Your World.”
Michelle, you have quantifiable results across a cross-section of individuals and groups that Broadcasting Happiness makes for positive results. Can you tell us more about that?
MICHELLE: Happiness often doesn’t just happen. It takes attention… and that is where the research we’re doing gets exciting. My research shows your optimistic, empowered mindset is the most valuable resource in creating happiness and forward progress.
A positive brain fuels performance, specifically by decreasing stress by 23%, improving creative problem solving by 20%, and increasing productive energy by 31%.
When you broadcast an empowered mindset to others, you help move their brain from problem to solution. You remind them that positive change is possible.
Too often the narrative at work is “if you’re having fun, you’re not working hard enough. When you hit your goals, then we’ll all be happy.” We worked with Nationwide Brokerage Services, which wanted to change this line of thinking because the company’s president saw research does not support it. It's been shown that companies that invest in the well-being of their employees see the company's success go up. Nationwide made some crucial small changes throughout its company structure to increase positivity and focus on employee well-being and the results were incredible. In just a few years, the gross revenue was more than a billion (having been at $350 million before they started the happiness practices).
A company can bring in positivity by having managers and leaders start meetings out by sharing the recent successes of the team/company or by recognizing a team member who's been rocking it at the office lately (something I like to call the Power Lead-a positive, meaningful start to any interaction you have with another person or group of people). One manager who started meetings by praising one employee each day raised the entire team’s productivity by 31% in three weeks. Behavioral changes can lead to real positive results for a company's bottom-line.
And we’ve found that social support is one of the best predictors of long-term happiness (a person’s social support network is made up of the people that care about their well-being and that they can turn to share both good and bad things with). One way we’ve seen families feel more connected is by doing a three gratitude practice at the dinner table. This is where each family member shares three new, specific things that their grateful for that day.
One of our clients decided to bring the gratitude practice back home and try it out with his family. He and his wife decided that they and their two daughters would Power Lead the dinner conversation by sharing what they were grateful for each day. Well, the daughters refused to participate, thinking it was silly. The dad felt discouraged and wanted to give up, but his wife encouraged him that just the two of them should keep sharing their gratitudes, and that their kids didn’t need to join in, unless they wanted to. So for a few weeks it was just the two of them saying their gratitudes at dinner, as their kids listened on.
One day, the dad got a call after their eldest daughter attended a sleepover, from her friend’s dad. He told him that they needed to talk, and fearing the worst, the dad asked what his daughter had done. The friend’s dad went on to explain how at the sleepover, his daughter had stepped in when the other girls began talking negatively about some of their peers and had asked them to stop and instead go around and name something nice about them or that they were grateful for. The dad was thrilled to learn that even though his eldest daughter hadn’t been verbally participating, she had still been taking these practices to heart.
The key to remember here is that even if we don’t immediately see results, it doesn’t mean that they’re not happening. Society says that we can’t change others, but I don’t believe that this is true. We can show others that there is a better way to look at the world and that we can change.
Again for Michelle: What made you change from CBS overnight news anchor to psychology researcher?
MICHELLE: I had a dream job at CBS News—and quit.
As an anchor of two national news programs, I was disturbed by the amount of negativity in the news. I didn’t want a child walking through the room while I was doing my job, hearing me continually telling negative stories about the world. I got tired of telling negative news stories. More importantly, I wanted to know how to share negative news in a way that empowered people and helped move them in a positive direction.
In a study with Arianna Huffington, we found that 3 minutes of negative news in the morning can lead to a 27% higher likelihood of you having a bad day, as reported 6 to 8 hours later.
I left my job as a broadcaster at CBS News to study positive psychology—the science of happiness and human potential—under Dr. Martin Seligman at the University of Pennsylvania. I got my Master of Applied Positive Psychology and the rest is as they say, history.
For both of you, what is the single most important thing that an individual can do every day to improve their happiness?
MICHELLE: I would recommend leading with positivity, i.e., using the Power Lead. This is such a small but powerful change that can lead us into more positive interactions overall. A good example of how to do this is to think more carefully to how we respond to the oft-asked question, “How are you doing?” It's so easy to respond with what might be right at the forefront of our thoughts: “I'm tired.” or “I'm stressed. There's just so much to do.” Our research is now showing that the way we answer matters more than we might have ever imagined.
When we open with something negative in response to “How are you doing?” the conversation typically has two paths it can take: Your complaint is met with compassion from the other person, or they launch into a game of misery poker with you (“You think you’re stressed? Let me tell you everything I have to do).
Either way, everyone loses. The reason is that by consistently starting with the negative, you’re inviting the other person to join you in focusing on all the things going on that are less than ideal. And then you both end up feeling drained from your interaction.
I fell into this trap myself when I was working at CBS. I had a crazy schedule working nights and I was exhausted all of the time. So anytime anyone asked me how I was doing, my immediate response was “I'm tired.” It got to the point where I was so sick of hearing myself complain that I became determined to change the social script. The next time a coworker asked me how I was doing, I replied that I was enjoying the cup of coffee I was having at that moment. And you know what? We had a great upbeat conversation, and after the third night of trying out this new tactic, she shared with me that she was pregnant. She had been wanting to share this good news with me, but understandably, hadn’t felt right to celebrate it, given my previous perceptual down mood.
So the next time someone asks you how you’re doing, try to focus on something that's going right, right then.
“I'm enjoying my coffee.”
“I had an easy commute in to the office today.”
“I'm so grateful I had time to squeeze in a quick walk today during lunch.”
And that’s the thing, when we open with positivity we invite others to be more positive with us. People who connect through positive experiences not only inspire happiness in others—they cultivate more of it themselves as they create a strong feedback loop.
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Praise for BROADCASTING HAPPINESS
“[Broadcasting Happiness will] inspire you and change your life.” —Parade Magazine
“Michelle Gielan is one of the brightest stars in positive psychology and an eloquent champion for rethinking the way we communicate.” —Arianna Huffington
“Broadcasting Happiness is a truly exceptional book, one that will help you to be better and more effective in work and life right away.” —Tom Rath, New York Times bestselling author of Strengths-Based Leadership and Eat Move Sleep
“Broadcasting Happiness is an inspiring book on radically rethinking the way we communicate with others. Michelle Gielan is a gifted storyteller, and she shares powerful science and practical insights for improving the world around us.” —Adam Grant, Wharton professor and New York Times bestselling author of Give and Take
“Broadcasting Happiness taps into our power as individuals to lead collective positive change simply by altering the way we view and share our everyday experiences. Michelle Gielan is a transformative thought leader and her book will change the way you work, live, and look at the world around you.” —Betsy Korona, Senior Producer, MSNBC
Michelle Gielan has spent the past decade researching the link between happiness and success. She is the bestselling author of Broadcasting Happiness: The Science of Igniting and Sustaining Positive Change and was named one of the Top 10 authors on resilience by the Harvard Business Review. Michelle is an Executive Producer of “The Happiness Advantage” on PBS and a featured professor in Oprah’s Happiness course. She formerly served as anchor of The CBS Morning News, and her research has received attention from dozens of media outlets including The Washington Post, FORBES, and The New York Times. Michelle holds an advanced degree in positive psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and a B.S. from Tufts University in Computer Engineering.
Amy Blankson is the CEO Of Fearless Positivity, Co-Founder of the Digital Wellness Institute, and bestselling author of The Future of Happiness. A graduate of Harvard and the Yale School of Management, she’s the only person to receive a Point of Light award from two US Presidents. She is also a member of the UN Global Happiness Council, a Fellow of the World Innovation Organization, a featured professor in Oprah’s happiness e-course, and a regular contributor to Forbes. Her current work focuses on how to cultivate happiness and well-being in the digital era.