When I studied social psychology in college, little did I know that it would become vital to my work in social media, social marketing, social networking, social ecommerce and social technology. My course load obviously included heavy doses of psychology, which was all very interesting but ultimately outdated. Thanks to Freud, the last hundred years of psychology has been skewed toward analyzing what’s wrong in the hope that it will produce a change in our behavior. More often than not, it doesn’t.

Freud was wrong. He was a big ‘ol Debbie Downer who believed that the best we can ever achieve is to minimize our misery.

It wasn’t until after I graduated that a new field called Positive Psychology would take root and remind us that we might do better by invoking who we are when we’re at our best instead of focusing all our attention on our traumas, failures and shortcomings in an endless loop.

Positive Psychology is more effective. Martin Seligman, one of its founders, realized after decades as a therapist that he could only rarely help a patient get rid of his anger, sadness, anxiety and misery. And if that did happen, on the other side of it was not happiness but emptiness. He realized that happiness was an entirely different skill set, and he wanted to discover what it required and how to get it.

Now happiness isn’t just a pursuit; it’s a topic of scientific study. Here’s some of what those studies have discovered.

  • Body mapping research shows that happiness is the only emotion that activates and energizes our entire body.
  • Individual happiness increases when groups of people or communities work together for a greater good.
  • When we do good in the world, our genetic code is enhanced, and we create more cells that fight disease.
  • Positive emotions expressed online are more contagious than negative ones.
  • In fact, happiness is contagious. Each new happy person in your life increases your odds of being happier by 9%.
  • Our happiness is higher when we spend money on experiences rather than objects.
  • Older people extract more pleasure from ordinary moments than do younger people.
  • People who are grateful for what they have are far more satisfied than those who focus on what they want.
  • Strong, positive relationships make us happier than do strong, positive accomplishments.
  • Working toward challenging goals increases our happiness and suppresses negative feelings.
  • Grateful people sleep better at night.

So what’s the easiest way to be happier? Practice optimism.

Turns out, there’s scientific proof that realists see the world as it actually is and optimists see the world through rose-colored glasses. While you might think that pessimism is the opposite of optimism, the truth is that there’s no difference between the viewpoints of pessimists and realists. Optimists, however, look at a situation and choose to see the good things. Optimism is not arrogance. It’s not even self-confidence. Instead, it’s the reverse of what Freud proposed. Dwell on what’s right. Focus on your talents. Anticipate success. View difficulties as temporary. Reread Pollyanna and play The Glad Game. Practice the fine art of positive illusion. Have an unrealistically high view of yourself and your potential. And remember that the greatest power we have is the power to change our mind.

For the vast majority of people, negative thinking is a habit, not a psychosis. It’s been proven that we can change our brain’s patterned responses through conscious effort. We can actually retrain our brains to trigger entirely different chemical responses that change our attitudes and our thinking in positive ways. So yes, we can think our way to happiness. But is it worth the effort? Well, apparently there’s no downside to optimism.

Research shows that optimists do better in everything—health, marriage, success, even post-traumatic stress. Their expectations are higher, they take action sooner, they accomplish more, they make more money, they’re more effective leaders, they live longer, they’re sick less often, they have fewer heart attacks, their risk of cancer is lower, they handle stress better, they heal faster, they have better relationships, and they’re a lot more fun to be around.

So the first rule in creating a new business should be obvious: hire happy, optimistic people.

One of the many exciting things about being the CEO of an early-stage, bootstrapped startup is that we’re still in the dreaming phase. So far, we’ve succeeded at everything and haven’t disappointed anyone. We’re very close to forming partnerships that will propel us forward on an even faster trajectory. These new alliances will mean that we’ll get to dream bigger and accomplish even more, and it will mean we’ll get to hire people who believe in what we’re doing and want to contribute.

When I co-founded Reaction Commerce, I wanted to create an experience that was different from what I’d already experienced. Reaction Commerce didn’t start with an idea of using new technology in innovative ways so that we could turn ecommerce on its ear; instead it began with a much simpler desire to create an environment that allowed us to thrive and excel for, oh, another 20 years. Why?

Because I want to be part of a company that doesn’t just contribute to the world, but directly impacts the lives of the people who make it happen.

So as CEO, my foremost goal is to find talented people who have happy, optimistic tendencies, and then create an environment that fosters and sustains their sense of satisfaction and well-being. That’s going to be an ongoing endeavor, but to start, here’s what we know.

We know that people who feel valued are happier. We know that when people are happy they’re more productive, more innovative and more dedicated. Healthcare costs go down, customer satisfaction goes up and high-quality work becomes more and more sustainable. Beyond that, people who are happy at work affect their families and their communities in positive ways.

So basically, investing in people isn’t just good for business; it’s good for the world.


Header photo, Jumping into water, courtesy Brooklyn Morgan. Thanks!