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Get It Done!

How Being Happy Is Contagious (and Why You’ll Live Longer)

By Daniel Gold

I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about the attitudes people bring to work every day and how a positive or negative attitude affects how others perform their jobs — including how they serve their clients.

The interesting thing is that the attitude you bring to work directly impacts every aspect of what you do and how you do it. Attitude drives your behavior. It impacts your productivity — and whether you are on track to succeed in accomplishing everything you should be doing. And you almost always bring your work attitude home to your loved ones.

So, that begs a critical question: If your attitude is contagious, why not go for the positive?

The Amazing Impact of Positivity

You might think I’m crazy, but brain science is behind me on this one.

There are four major neurochemicals in the brain that control your emotions: dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins.

  • The feeling of getting things done, achieving goals or doing the right thing releases dopamine.
  • Recalling past victories, accomplishments or practicing gratitude releases serotonin.
  • When we are working great as a team, both internally and with clients, and feel trust in one another, we release oxytocin. Receiving a small gift from a co-worker also releases oxytocin (also when a client receives a gift from their lawyer).
  • Laughter sets off your endorphins.

In fact, a Harvard University medical study found that people who have a positive attitude live longer! Amazing, right? Now, I’m no scientist, but I think that’s what we call a “chemical reaction.”

What Happens When You’re a Negative Ned

Now, consider the opposite, negative attitude. Say you work in a “toxic environment” where everyone is glum, downtrodden or mean-spirited, and you’re surrounded by Negative Neds. The chemical released when you are experiencing negative feelings in the brain is cortisol. And, you throw off an inverse negative reaction in each of the “happy chemicals.”

Incredibly, the Negative Neds of the world are rewiring their brains by complaining. According to Rick Hanson, Ph.D., a psychologist and senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley, constant negativity “literally eats away, almost like an acid bath, at the hippocampus, which is a part of the brain that’s very engaged in visual-spatial memory as well as memory for context and setting.”

If that’s not positive motivation to express gratitude and laugh more, I’m not sure what is.

So, if one person in the office is negative about financial forecasts, billings, utilization rates and dissatisfied clients, and passes that attitude along one to a susceptible person, guess what? You bet: A chemical reaction is created. Why do you think we have the expression “misery loves company”?

Being Happy Leads to Getting Things Done

When you decide to pursue happiness and positivity — no matter what is happening during the business day — something else incredible happens. You are more productive and get more things done.

How is this possible?

Think about the last time you had to focus on getting a brief done, completely undistracted by phone calls, emails, IMs or people walking into your office. Were you also listening to music? Chances are you were pounding out your analysis to Yo-Yo Ma or Metallica. We listen to music to motivate us at work for the same reason we listen to music when we’re exercising. I revert back to the science: When we listen to music, our brains respond by releasing dopamine.

The music helps us pound the keyboard at work (or as a character in “Up in the Air” calls it, “typing with purpose”).

The more we feel good, the more we get done. The more negative we feel, the less we get done (and blame everyone around us).

You Have a Choice to Make About Your Attitude

I’ve been encouraging everyone in my organization to begin their day focused on how to create clients who are “Raving Fans.” The idea comes from the whimsical business book of the same title, and the philosophy is quite simple: Don’t simply punch the proverbial clock (or add the “0.1” to your timesheet) and go through the motions of researching, drafting, deposing, and meeting with clients. Instead, aim to create the most exceptional client experience every time.

I hear the critics and don’t disagree: This is a lot easier said than done. But for any kind of change to happen within a work environment, it must begin with you.

Everyone has a choice to make when it comes to their attitude. I know we all lead stressful lives. In the past few months, my gray hairs have been sprouting faster than the vegetables in my garden. But every morning when my alarm goes off, I say this mantra: “Today is going to be a great day. Let’s make it count.” I choose to be positive. I choose to be happy. I am cognizant that what I do every day is making a difference in the lives of others. I know my attitude has a trickle-down effect on individual contributors and my management team.

I tell everyone on my team that the work they do matters. I tell them that because it is true. Words matter. Verbalizing this matters. The words we use as leaders and as individual contributors when speaking to others within our workplaces, and when speaking to our clients, matter. You cannot be fully present and achieve your most important goals without choosing positivity and happiness. I know I am right (what attorney doesn’t think they have a winning argument?) because the science says so.

To Do Tomorrow: Spread Some Happiness

Tomorrow morning, create a similar mantra when you wake and see what happens. Smile more. Express gratitude more often to those around you. Spread positivity to others in your office.

If you are a leader at your firm, call a practice group or team meeting, and chart a course to create this kind of change within your office and with your clients. The long-term sustainable impact may surprise you: increased billings, greater utilization rates, net new clients and, better yet, fans for clients.

Illustration ©

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Daniel Gold

Daniel Gold is a lawyer, consultant, technologist, speaker and author. Dan’s mission is to make a difference in the lives of professionals both at work and in life. He is known for his productivity e-books such as “Evernote: The Unofficial Guide to Capturing Everything and Getting Things Done” and “Make It Happen: How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your eBook.” He is also regarded as an expert in e-discovery and IT managed services. Follow him on Twitter at @DanielGoldEsq and @DEGConsulting.

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