I spoke to Suzann Pileggi Pawelski and James Pawelski, co-authors of Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts, about why they wrote the book, their positive psychology principles, how couples can work together successfully, what teams can learn from their research and their best career advice.
Suzann is a freelance writer and well-being consultant, while James is a Professor of Practice and Director of Education in the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania. They both co-write a blog on Psychology Today. Happy Together is a must-read for anyone single, coupled, or newly single. An innovative look at love using the latest findings from the science of positive psychology, this book will revolutionize your relationship.
Dan Schawbel: What inspired your original cover story “The Happy Couple” and why did you eventually decide to turn it into a book?
Suzann And James Pawelski: In fairy tales, people meet, fall in love, and “live happily ever after.” In real life, though, it’s not so easy. “Happily ever after” doesn’t just happen; it involves patience and sustained effort.
Scientific findings in the field of positive psychology can help guide that effort effectively, and I (Suzie) wrote “The Happy Couple” for Scientific American Mind to make some of this important research accessible to a broad audience. The article received a lot of attention and was republished several times in special editions of the magazine.
Given this excellent reception, we decided to present some of this material through “Romance & Research Workshops ™,” which we have now given around the globe. The positive response blew us away: people kept asking us for more. So we co-wrote this book to delve deeper into the research and its application and to make it easily accessible to anyone who wants to do the work necessary to make “happily ever after” a reality in their relationship.
Schawbel: What are some of the biggest principles of positive psychology that you explored in the book?
Suzann And James Pawelski: As human beings, we are wired to be extremely sensitive to threat. As a result, we naturally pay more attention to what goes wrong in life than to what goes right. Problems scream at us, opportunities whisper.
Positive psychology emphasizes the necessity of a balanced approach for well-being. Although it’s important to develop problem-solving skills, it’s just as important—if not more so—to develop skills for realizing opportunities. Positive psychology research can help us cultivate healthy passion, positive emotions, mindful savoring, and character strengths—in short, the kinds of things that can help us intentionally, proactively, and effectively direct our efforts to create the habits we need to flourish.
Schawbel: How can couples who work together (at a company or with their own business) make things work at home?
Suzann And James Pawelski: It’s especially important for couples who work together to maintain their identity and healthy sense of self. They should spend time engaging in their individual interests and connecting with family and friends on their own, as well as with their partner.
It’s also important for couples to practice applying the strengths they regularly use at work in new and different ways outside of the office. One way to do this is by going on “strengths dates.”
Positive psychology has identified twenty-four character strengths that have been consistently valued across time and cultures—things like creativity, analytical thinking, leadership, love of learning, and zest. The free VIA Survey of Character Strengths allows you to identify the strengths you are naturally good at. To plan a strengths date, you and your partner each pick one of your top strengths and then plan an outing that will allow you to put that strength into action.
For example, if you have a top strength of “zest” and your partner has “love of learning,” perhaps you rent Segways for a historical tour of your city. This allows you to exercise your sense of adventure while addressing your partner’s thirst for knowledge.
Schawbel: What can teams learn from the research you discuss to help them work better together to achieve common goals?
Suzann And James Pawelski: Our advice for teams actually is inspired by Aristotle, the ancient Greek philosopher whose work provides a key part of the theoretical foundation for positive psychology. Aristotle noted that although usefulness can be an important human bond, goodness is a stronger one.
We typically value teams for their usefulness—their usefulness for the members of the team, for the project they are engaged in, and for the organization that employs them. Aristotle argued that, important as relationships of usefulness are, relationships of goodness are even more important. If we take the time to see the good in our teammates, that may well inspire us to become better ourselves. And if we focus on the good in the project we are working on, we may find meaning that can buffer us against burnout, enhance our well-being and, as an important byproduct, increase the usefulness and the profitability of the team.
Schawbel: What are your top three pieces of career advice?
Suzann And James Pawelski:
1. Focus on what is going right in your career and how to get more of it. One way is to identify your strengths and figure out new ways you can practice integrating them into your work every day.
2. Find a workplace “Aristotelian friend” whose character you value and who inspires you to become better yourself.
3. Feed your interests outside of the workplace in order to cultivate a healthy—rather than an obsessive—passion towards your work. In particular, invest in cultivating healthy relationships (both romantic and platonic), which are associated with success at work and a more fulfilling and meaningful life.