Look At What's Working, Instead of What's Not

This can help you think better, improve relationships and experience more joy, says happiness consultant Vadivu Govind.

Recall a time when you were at your best and felt joyful. Feel what you felt then. Let your heart answer: “What are you grateful for in what happened? What did you appreciate about yourself? What impact did you have on others?”

Chances are that if you did this, your heart would now be beating more harmoniously; more blood would be flowing to your brain. That means you’d be able to focus better and think more clearly and creatively – all these substantiated by scientific studies, no less! Imagine that on a longer-term basis, as you develop and deepen a practice of focusing on what’s working in life.

Then why do we have a tendency to focus on what’s wrong instead of what’s right? Part of the answer lies in “negativity bias”, an evolutionary tendency for us to focus on what could harm us. It’s a survival strategy. However, we tend to over-use this even when there’s no danger. Such fear keeps us from greater joy.

One way to focus on what’s working is by focusing on people’s strengths. A 2002 survey by the US-headquartered Corporate Leadership Council of some 20,000 employees across 29 countries found that focusing on performance strengths boosted performance by 36 per cent while focusing on performance weaknesses led to a 27 per cent decline in performance.

Tapping into people’s strengths also means enhanced teamwork, retention of talent and fulfilment at work.

Focusing on strengths is one slice of the important pie of gratitude and appreciation. As Dr Sonya Lyubomirsky, a researcher on happiness, says, gratitude “is a kind of meta-strategy for achieving happiness”.

I started a daily gratitude practice more than five years ago and one reason I’m studying it closely now for my work is because of the personal joy and peace I have experienced in using it.

If you’re ready to start focusing on what’s working, here are a few tips.

Develop a daily practice. List at least three things you are grateful for every day. Include what you appreciate about yourself. Use a method that works best for you, whether it’s a journal or an app.

Start with gratitude for what’s working well. Then learn to discover and appreciate the hidden gifts and lessons behind difficulties. When you can do this, you experience much more ease and growth.

Give impactful appreciation. Express how someone’s actions made you feel, what organisational need they met, and what strengths you saw in them. If someone does some great work, tell their boss, tell them personally and where possible, appreciate them in public.

“What are you grateful for today or this week?” Pose such a question during meetings. Put up a visual reminder at your desk.



Discover and use your strengths wisely. Harness strengths instead of weaknesses in others.

Focusing on what’s working is a transformational approach to life. It is especially useful when you do need to look at what’s not working.

So – what are you grateful for today?

Vadivu Govind is the founder of Joy Works, a consultancy that specialises in enabling people to access joy at work. A Master of Public Administration graduate from Columbia University, she is also an accredited strengths practitioner.

    Jan 5, 2012
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