Author Archives: Jane S. Anderson

When You Need Creative Solutions Fast – Part 1

Daily problems and challenges become easier when approached with positivity.  Skeptical?  Curious?  See for yourself! 

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read time:  about 1.25 minutes

experiment time:  about 5 minutes

Early in my Positive Psychology study program, I had a hard time connecting positivity with all the benefits I read about.  I confess that I wasn’t adept at even naming positive emotions, much less dissecting and discussing them.

Then I ran across a fascinating experiment in Barbara Fredrickson’s book Positivity.  After trying it myself and with others, I experienced firsthand how positive emotions do broaden our thinking and enhance creativity.

Cultivating positive emotions , I’ve found, is a handy skill, especially when I’m faced with making a decision, creating something new (like a new blog post), or even communicating a difficult message to someone.

Consider the following quote by Barbara Fredrickson:

“The evidence shows that simply imagining a joyful memory or receiving a small kindness can make a difference in the ease with which people locate creative and optimal solutions to the problems they face on a daily basis.”

She conducted research on physicians, managers and contract negotiators.  For each group, the strategic use of positivity led to better outcomes – better diagnoses, decisions, and business deals.

If you’re skeptical, or even curious, about how positivity works, I invite you to try her experiment for yourself.  I’ve outlined it, with a few minor wording changes, below.

The experiment takes about five minutes to complete, and you’ll need paper and a pen or pencil.  If possible, ask someone to read you the instructions to avoid going back and forth with your responses.  If that’s not possible, give it a whirl on your own, but try not to rush yourself through it.  Or find a “subject” of your own to try it on.



Step 1  Take at least a minute to simply study the back of your hand.  Get to know it like never before.  Describe to yourself everything you see.  Describe the textures, colors, and condition of your skin.  Describe your nails, your bones and veins.  Describe the patterns of each knuckle.  Give yourself at least a minute to study the back of your hand, then go to the next step.

Step 2   Grab your pen and paper.  Assume you have a free half hour with no pressing demands on your time.  Think about what you want to do with that time.  Consider the feelings you get when you study your hand.  What are those feelings?  Make a list of what you’d like to do right now – write down everything these feelings make you want to do.  When you’re finished with your list, go to the next step.

Step 3  Now try something different.  Think of a time when you were joyful.  Imagine and relive this joyful moment.  It can be something that happened yesterday, or when you were a child.  In this moment, everything’s going your way.  Imagine your surroundings and sensations and the people you’re with.  Savor and re-live this experience, the visual images and the feelings.  Give yourself at least a minute to savor this experience, then go to the next step.

Step 4  Get a clean sheet of paper.  Again, assume you’ve got a free half hour with no pressing demands.  What does this new, joyful feeling make you want to do right now?  Consider all the feelings you get when reliving this experience.  Make a new list of everything this makes you want to do.  Take whatever time you need to complete your list, and when you’re finished move on to the next step.

Step 5  Now compare your lists.  Compare the number of entries on each list.  Compare the content of each.  Consider your thinking and emotions when preparing each list.

Discussion  The goal of studying your hand was to put you into a neutral state.  Perhaps you crossed over into a more negative state if you thought it a particularly odd or annoying task.  Either state is fine.

The goal of re-living a joyful moment was to put you into a positive state.  If you’re like the subjects from my own unscientific experiments, and those in Barbara Fredrickson’s scientific ones, your second list was much longer.

In addition, it may have been filled with more meaningful activities.  Or written in more vivid detail, with richer descriptions and word choices.  Perhaps you came up with an entirely different list of inspiring, energizing, creative ways to fill your time.  One of my “subjects” reported that he visualized his first list in black and white and his second list in vivid colors.

What an enormous difference in perspective.  All of my subjects, including me, would’ve made a completely different decision on how to spend that free half hour.  Can you begin to see how a physician’s perspective might be broadened when making a diagnosis?  I’d certainly prefer to see that doctor!

What are the differences in your two lists?  I’d love to hear about your results and observations, so please feel free to share.  You can either leave a reply or use the contact form on the My Story page to contact me confidentially.

Stay tuned for part 2 of this post.  I plan to share more about how positivity broadens our thinking, cultivates creativity, and helps us solve everyday problems more easily.

With gratitude for putting happiness first,


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Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.

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Your Brain On Positivity

Your brain on positivity begins a new conversation.  Below are a few tips and guidelines to get you started. 

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read time:  about 2.5 minutes

When working with an individual coaching client, I like to start each session with one simple question.  I use the same question at the dinner table with my family.  I also use it with friends.

“What went well?”

It’s interesting because this one little question often elicits an array of uncomfortable responses.  Long pauses.  Heavy sighing.  Even eyeball rolling.

Just as we begin to explore the positive realm, the conversation often heads right back into more comfortable territory – what isn’t going so well.

I find this struggle to discuss what went well fascinating.  I faced it in my own discussions with mentors and coaches.  It seemed immodest, even cocky, to indulge in what went well.  Plus, it went well – why did we need to dwell on it?  With an overflowing plate of challenges both at work and home, I needed to get down to problem solving.  Or so I thought.

Many of you may remember the TV ad campaign against drug abuse, where a man cracks an egg into a screaming hot frying pan.

“This is your brain on drugs,” he declares as the egg sizzles and pops, transforming its very nature from a gooey liquid to a solid.

The brain in a constantly negative state reminds me of the brain on drugs, changing our very nature.  It colors our judgment, seeks fault and blame, finds problem solving difficult, influences our beliefs, impacts interactions with others, and causes us to do things out of character.  Unchecked, it contributes to high blood pressure, ulcers, and disease.

No one is immune to negativity.

Your brain on positivity can be the difference between languishing and flourishing.  If you stop right now to picture your favorite go-to place for rest and rejuvenation – a beach, a hammock in the back yard, the library – you may notice your facial muscles relaxing or a heightened sense of calm just by shifting your attention to something positive.

Raising positivity over time has many benefits.  It can:

  1. Open our hearts and minds.
  2. Make us more receptive and creative.
  3. Allow us to discover and build new skills, connections, and knowledge.
  4. Raise resilience.
  5. Improve our ability to grow stronger, even after traumatic or difficult events.

Try putting your brain on positivity more often at home or work.  Below are a few ideas and guidelines to get you started.

  • Instead of starting your work day with everything you didn’t accomplish yesterday, start by sending an email of acknowledgement or thanks to a colleague.
  • Instead of asking your children about the chores they didn’t do, notice the things they did right today.
  • At dinnertime, rather than asking “how was your day?” or launching into the usual list of gripes and annoyances, ask “what went well?”
  • Generate a sincere, heartfelt conversation around what went well.  Allow the positive emotions that arise – joy, amusement, gratitude, inspiration, hope – to flow.  Bask in the glow of positivity.
  • Keep the conversation going with a few follow up questions.  What progress did you make?  What did you accomplish?  Why did that go well?  What was your contribution?  What strengths did you use?
  • Make it a habit to start the day, or a meeting, with your brain on positivity.
  • Make it a habit to end the day with your brain on positivity.
  • Use positivity all day long with colleagues, family members and friends.

Your brain on positivity not only sets a different tone, but it also creates an entirely different conversation.  In my experience, others feel more at ease and open, less anxious and defensive.  Relationships strengthen.  A new conversation begins.  New possibilities emerge.  Creativity blossoms.  Breakthroughs in thinking occur.

Try it out for yourself at work or home, and let me know how it goes.  Either leave a reply or contact me directly using the contact form on the My Story page.

I can’t wait to hear what went well!

With gratitude for putting happiness first,


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Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.

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Raising Positivity

Raising positivity strengthens lives, organizations and societies.  Get ready to learn more about this renewable resource.

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read time:  under 2 minutes

Early this morning, my cup of coffee in hand, I looked out my back window.  Way, way back is a pond and a forest preserve.  At this time of year, the trees burst with color – buttery golden browns, fiery orange-reds, and fading greens.  A female deer and her two youngsters bounded through the yards around the pond.  Marveling at this scene of nature, I was filled with a sense of serenity and gratitude for where I live.

Then the phone rang, jolting me out of my morning revelry.  It was one of those early morning telemarketers.  So much for serenity and gratitude.

Fortunately, positivity is like a renewable resource – I can generate more when I’m running low or when negativity is running high.  I can raise my own level of positivity by engaging in activities and with people that generate genuine, heartfelt emotions like serenity, gratitude, and joy.

In my post What Is Happiness? dated 9/19/13, I described positivity as one of five building blocks that provide a foundation for happiness and flourishing.  Research shows that positivity opens our hearts and minds, enables learning, and boosts creativity.   Research also suggests more specific benefits.

See if you have any interest in any of the following:  lower emotional exhaustion, increased creative thinking, more likely to resolve conflict through collaboration, increased motivation, better decision-making efficiency, more inclusive thinking toward others, higher longevity, lower incidence of alcohol or other drug abuse, faster recovery from illness or injury, lower turnover at work, higher job satisfaction, fewer work absences, higher salaries, more likely to be judged worthy of receiving a pay raise.  The list goes on.

If that’s not enough of an incentive to take positivity seriously, consider the following quote from a recent Gallup report on well being worldwide:

“Behavioral indicators such as positive and negative emotions are a vital measure of a society’s well being.  Leaders worldwide are starting to incorporate such behavioral-based indicators into the metrics they use to evaluate their countries because they realize that traditional economic indicators such as GDP and 40-hour workweeks alone do not, and cannot, quantify the human condition.”

If global leaders can incorporate measures of positive and negative emotions into their leadership strategies to improve well being at a societal level, then we can incorporate them into our daily lives.

That’s why I’m dedicating the next few posts to raising positivity, a renewable resource and one of the key building blocks of flourishing individuals, organizations, and societies.

With gratitude for putting happiness first,


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Biswas-Diener, Robert (2010). Practicing Positive Psychology Coaching – Assessment, Activities, and Strategies for Success.  New Jersey:  John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 41-42.

Clifton, Jon (November 21, 2012).  Singapore Ranks as Least Emotional Country in the World – Gallup.  Washington, DC.

Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.


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A Plea for Happiness

Living in modern society poses some tough challenges.  Putting happiness first helps. 

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read time:  about 2 minutes

“Can we please show a little more happiness, people?  Where are the smiles?  Where’s the energy?”

It was the demand of a frazzled volunteer mom in my junior high school production of “The Pirates of Penzance.”  She was struggling to assemble twenty 13-year-olds in a dance number.  As you can imagine, those of us in the chorus were more interested in chatting about the upcoming sock hop.  (Yes – that was many, many years ago.)

Understandably, it was a desperate plea for our attention.  But if you remove the desperation, the question is still valid today.

Can we show a little more happiness?

Consider the following news headlines and statistics:

  • 70% of workers report burnout at work.  That includes high stress, extreme fatigue, and a lack of control.
  • 50% of first time marriages end in divorce.  The rates for second and third marriages are even higher.
  • Depression levels are 10 times higher today than in the 1960s.  The average age of onset has declined from 30 to less than 15.

We live in a world that provides more than we need to live our best lives – opportunity, technology, education, medical advancements – and yet we’re struggling more than ever at work and home.  I include myself when I say “we.”

How can we struggle less, become happier, and flourish?

Unfortunately, our brains don’t make it easy.  Biologically speaking, the brain is wired for negativity.  It processes negative events more thoroughly.  Negative events and people have greater impact.  In other words, bad is stronger than good.

We develop skills and strategies for managing negativity, conflict, and adversity.  We gain proficiency in conflict management, difficult conversations, and stress reduction.  We need these skills to navigate our daily lives.

But when do we invest in positivity?  How many of us intentionally cultivate happiness, which raises outcomes in all important life domains including work, relationships, health, and longevity?  We need these skills too.  But cultivating genuine happiness isn’t typically taught at school or work or even at home.

Why don’t we cultivate happiness the way we cultivate other important things?

I can think of a few reasons:

  1. Individual beliefs about happiness.  Some of us live under the illusion that reaching a certain destination is the key to our happiness.  Others believe that fate, circumstances, or genetics determine happiness.  Still others, that volunteer mom perhaps, believe that a forced smile or a temporary burst of energy equals happiness.  All of these views are out of synch with the scientific framework for happiness.
  2. Nature of change.  Change is hard.  We want things to be distilled into a Top 10 list or a sound byte so we can move on to the next thing on our long “to do” lists.  Shifting from negativity to positivity may sound simple, but it’s not always easy.
  3. Brain science.  Most of us don’t study how the brain works, but genuine happiness is all about the brain.  The key to becoming happier and flourishing is cultivating positive habits and skills that create new neural pathways and literally re-wire the brain.
  4. Growing body of knowledge.  Positive Psychology is only about a decade old – a “new” field – with a growing body of knowledge and research-based tools.  Word hasn’t yet spread to all corners of the earth.  That’s where I come in, hopefully with your help.

The plea for happiness is a worthy one.  “Showing a little more happiness,” the scientific version, is exactly what’s called for in modern society.

Will you answer the call, and help me spread the word?

With gratitude for putting happiness first,




Baumeister, Roy F., et al (2001).  Bad Is Stronger Than Good.  Review of General Psychology.

Ben-Shahar, Tal (2007).  Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, New York:  McGraw Hill.

Lyubomirsky, et al (2005).  The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect:  Does Happiness Lead To Success?  Psychology Bulletin.


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What Is Happiness?

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read time:  about 2 minutes

Happiness isn’t just a fleeting emotion.  Get ready to broaden your thinking about the pursuit of happiness.

We’re all familiar with the standard definition of “happy.” defines it as 1) an array of emotions – delighted, pleased, or glad – as in “I’m happy to meet you” and 2) characterized by pleasure, contentment or joy, as in “My happy place is on the beach at sunset.”

My personal view of happiness goes much deeper than feelings of delight or contentment.  It also includes:

  • Making a meaningful contribution to the world,
  • Expressing myself through my unique talents, skills, and strengths,
  • Connecting with others in deep, satisfying relationships, and
  • Accomplishing everything possible.

Happiness means flourishing.  According to science, these aren’t just ideals or nice-to-haves.  They are the building blocks of flourishing individuals and organizations.

The five building blocks are 1) positivity and the experience of positive emotions, 2) engagement, 3) positive relationships, 4) meaning and purpose, and 5) achievement.

Positive emotions open our hearts and minds, enable learning, and boost creativity.

Engagement creates peak performance and experiences.

Positive relationships provide acceptance, support, and a sense of belonging.

Meaning and purpose connect us with something bigger than ourselves.

Achievement enables mastery, using our unique strengths, skills, and talents.

These building blocks work together to form a strong foundation of happiness and flourishing.  Let me demonstrate with an example from my own life:  publishing this blog.

Of course, my primary goal in publishing this blog is to help you cultivate happiness in your life!  But I’ll explain how it also cultivates happiness in mine.

By publishing this blog, I’m able to:

  1. Experience positive emotions when I create new content, read your comments, and watch visitor stats increase.   Publishing this blog is a source of inspiration, joy, gratitude, and hope for me.
  2. Get into “the zone” while writing new blog posts.  Publishing this blog engages me fully.
  3. Build relationships with new readers and deepen relationships with clients, colleagues, family, and friends, as we exchange ideas and learn new things from one another.  Publishing this blog deepens my relationships.
  4. Connect with a purpose that’s bigger than me – a movement to help other individuals and organizations flourish.  Publishing this blog is personally meaningful and promotes a higher purpose.
  5. Hone my writing and critical thinking skills, and utilize my signature strengths of creativity, love of learning, and humor.  Publishing this blog allows me to use my unique talents and skills to build mastery in applying Positive Psychology knowledge and tools.

You can see how happiness goes way beyond “I’m happy to meet you.”  Cultivating happiness is like putting deposits into a bank account.  The greater the deposits, the bigger the balance.  The bigger the balance, the larger the cushion when withdrawals are made.  Withdrawals, of course, are daily stresses and adversity.

This framework for understanding happiness is empowering.  It demonstrates that we have a large measure of control over whether we flourish or not, through daily choices and actions to cultivate positive emotions and relationships, engagement, meaning, and achievement.

Maybe one day, the definition of happiness will be updated.  In the meantime, take a moment to consider your own views on happiness.

What are you doing right now to cultivate happiness in your life?

With gratitude for putting happiness first,




Csiksentmihalyi, Mihaly (1999).  If We’re So Rich, Why Aren’t We Happy?  American Psychologist.

Fredrickson, Barbara (2009).  Positivity:  Top Notch Research Reveals the 3:1 Ratio That Will Change Your Life.  New York:  Three Rivers Press.

Seligman, Martin (2011).  Flourish:  A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being.  New York:  Free Press.

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Welcome to Positively, Disruptively Happy!

read time: under 2 minutes

Happiness causes success.   Happiness inspires productivity.  Happiness provides an advantage.

Hello, my name is Jane Anderson.  Welcome to my blog!

These are a few discoveries from the burgeoning field of Positive Psychology, the scientific study of happiness.  According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage and happiness expert:

“Some people think if you are happy, you are blind to reality.  But when we research it, happiness actually raises every single business and educational outcome for the brain.”

Fascinated by headlines and TED talks, I dabbled in the readings and research.  What I discovered was so compelling that I enrolled in an intensive 1-year Positive Psychology study program to learn and apply the research-based tools of happiness.

Why would a lifelong business professional, dedicated to the pursuit of business, study the pursuit of happiness?  Burnout, mostly.  Far too often, I felt depleted and unable to be my best due to life’s daily stressors plus a steady stream of unexpected challenges.

I worked hard to make the best of things, but my brain had a hard time reaching happiness.  I now understand why.  You can read more by clicking on the “My Story” tab at the top of this page.

I wasn’t the only one chasing happiness.  As a society, we believe that hard work leads to success (which it often does) and that success leads to happiness (which it often doesn’t).  We subscribe to this approach as parents, leaders, and educators.

Science tells us to reverse this approach.  In order to achieve success in all key life domains, we should cultivate happiness.  We should put happiness first.

“…happy people are more likely than their less happy peers to have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health, and a long life.”  (Lyubomirsky, King, and Diener, 2005)

Happiness leads to success.  Happiness inspires productivity.  Happiness provides an advantage.  Thus, cultivating happiness is arguably one of life’s most worthy goals.  It’s my goal. 

I’m on a mission to put happiness first, to nurture the positive genius in myself and others, and to build flourishing lives, teams, and workplaces.

I created Positively, Disruptively Happy! to take a step in that direction.  By sharing research-based, often counter-intuitive knowledge and tools, I hope to:

  1. Challenge contemporary thinking about sources of happiness and success,
  2. Inspire you to put happiness first, and
  3. Show you the way.

Will you join me?  To subscribe to this blog, enter your email address in the box and click Submit.  You’ll receive a confirmation email at the address you provided – please activate your subscription by following the simple instructions in that email.  I promise to respect your privacy and send only my periodic blog post updates to your inbox. You can unsubscribe at any time.  Feel free to share this with your network, as well.

Until next time,

Jane Anderson


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