Enhancing Positive Emotion With Solid Happiness Interventions

{Biswas-Diener & Dean, 2007. Positive Psychology Coaching: Putting the Science of Happiness to Work for Your Clients}

{Driver, 2011. Coaching Positively: Lessons for coaches from positive psychology.}


Emotion and motivation are linked internally. Feeling upset or frightened in contrast to feeling confident and happy affects one’s resourcefulness for making change differently. Emotion can be a block or an energy source for growth and change.

Importantly, addressing emotion in coaching is not an end but is valuable because it produces valuable individual and organizational benefits, leading to individual growth, health, and improved performance. It can increase personal coping resources and, therefore, resilience in times of pressure and setback. At the social and organizational level, developing positive emotions enhances favorable reactions and helping actions toward others. In addition, positive emotions broaden individual mindsets, creating a more positive view of the working environment and increasing relational strength, leading to people working more productively together.

Positive emotion offers a significant starting point for planned organizational development and change and can constitute part of the explicit coaching agenda.

Emotional mastery involves getting comfortable with emotional expressions, the mental excitement, and bodily feelings they produce, widening one’s “window of tolerance.” Noticing key words or phrases or a shift in posture or tone requires emotional awareness. Staying present to what one notices without ignoring the emotional signals or wanting to move on quickly requires self-regulation.

Since emotions are often the key to moving through blocks and a breakthrough in understanding leading to action, the coach’s emotional competence becomes a primary social resource for the coaching client.

Fredrickson’s (2010) Broaden and Build Theory of Positive Emotions comes from research findings that people experiencing positive emotions showed increased creativity and “big picture” focus, broadening their awareness and encouraging new, varied, and exploratory thinking and action. In addition, positive emotion increases one’s thought and action scope, building resourcefulness and skills over time and enabling greater goal achievement. In contrast, negative emotions have the opposite effect, restricting thought and action and focusing attention on short-term survival actions.

The coach supports positive emotions’ “broaden and build” pattern and challenges negative thinking patterns by

Noticing when the client shows a positive emotion in their words, tone, or non-verbal communication, bringing it to their attention through feedback, acknowledging it, and inviting them to hold the emotion for a while before continuing.

Playing back or summarizing positive emotion expressions, thus amplifying their effect.

Probing non-feeling words presented as feelings. For example, the client might say, “I felt really good about that.” The coach probes, “Say a bit more about how good it felt.”

Inviting the client to re-live and re-experience positive past moments, for example, when they did have a resource they now lack, such as confidence, calm, or courage, and to recall with mind and feelings embodied.

When clients experience persistent negative emotions, it is primary to acknowledge the emotions instead of trying to force them to feel better. Once acknowledged by the coach and owned by themselves, clients generally move on and think about what’s next.

The Gestalt notion of “paradoxical change” suggests that to let go of and move on from negative emotion, one must first experience it fully.

Working with autobiographical memory

By accessing specific episodes in autobiographical memory, a client can bring resourcefulness and wellbeing from the past into the present, providing a powerful potential positive emotion source. For example, a coach can encourage a client to recall vividly and re-live positive experiences of past strengths use, or to re-experience positive emotions from the past vividly and then hold onto them in the here and now, keeping the client in that past state as long and as vividly as possible. However, just talking about past experiences uses a different brain area and does not have the same power as re-living the experience. Instead, emotional and physical experience infuses the recall of resourcefulness with power. The coach clarifies this notion to the client, guides them into the past event, and then holds them there.

The next step is connecting the positive emotion to the goal or issue considered. Useful questions include:

What does that positive feeling (use their words) say about what you need to do right now?

How can you experience more of that (name that feeling) in the present situation?

Solid Happiness Interventions

How can you use the empirical research on happiness-increasing interventions to sell your services? Compile this research into a list to use on websites, business cards, and brochures. How might you present this information to prospective or current clients?

Consider your professional relationship, the client’s personality and goals, and the cautions suggested for certain interventions; when might you introduce these interventions? How might you assess if they are working?

Consider employing happiness interventions yourself. Write the things you are thankful for, or habitually attend to happy moments to savor them. Chart your life satisfaction over the next few weeks to determine how these interventions work.

Develop a “positivity portfolio.” What would you include?

People repeatedly think about how to make their life better, function at their best, feel engaged in daily activities, and achieve lasting happiness. Fostering the client’s motivation, growth opportunities, and positive feelings benefits both of you.

The debate over the proper route to happiness and how best to seek personal fulfillment is millennia old. It has recently become a scientific research endeavor. Positive psychology researchers have tested interventions to increase and sustain individual happiness and produced encouraging findings.

Translating the happiness terminology into business language might ease their introduction to executives and leaders to take seriously and accept their value. 

For example, promote “perseverance” as a “sustained capacity to perform an emotionally loaded task such as cold calling.” Focus on the happiness-related outcomes important to your clients using their daily language. For example, instead of talking about “happiness,” discuss engagement, optimal functioning, increased productivity, sales resilience, emotional capability, or positive relationship management. 

Study your marketplace. What language do your clients use to describe their challenges and solutions? Use words and concepts that appeal to your clients to tailor your marketing messages and interventions language.

Clients generally don’t articulate happiness goals explicitly. However, all coaching involves an implicit component of increasing client wellbeing. Routes to happiness include pleasure, engagement, and meaning in life (add to this positive relationships and achievement to get PERMA), “the full life” orientation leading to satisfaction.

Clients and organizational sponsors might wonder, “Isn’t happiness fleeting?” or “What good is happiness?” The data show that happiness is decidedly beneficial at home and work. Positive emotions are associated with better relationships, participating in more social activities, being liked better by coworkers, receiving better customer and supervisor evaluations, earning more, helping others more, enjoying better health, better coping, increased creativity, and survival. Engaged and satisfied workers take fewer sick days and receive higher customer ratings.

The question is not “Should I increase happiness?” but rather “How should I increase happiness, and where should I start?”

People have long focused on life circumstances to attain lasting wellbeing. Common wisdom suggests the right combination of circumstances will maximize our chances for happiness. But, life circumstances have been shown to make up only a small portion of happiness. Furthermore, they are often difficult to control. Typically, effecting change in these areas is a slow process that occurs in small increments and with a heavy investment of time, energy, and other personal resources, with no success guarantee, resulting in little net happiness.

The alternative is to focus on small, daily activities to pursue happiness. It is simple to modify our daily routines and practices. Even small changes add a subtle touch of novelty to our day and help break us out of behavioral ruts. Small behaviors are a matter of choice and can easily become habits.

Exercise careful judgment and work with your clients to choose coaching strategies that best fit your work.

Incorporate validated interventions such as the “gratitude visit” with a written letter of thanks hand-delivered to the recipient, “counting blessings” each night for a week by writing three things that went well each day, “you at your best” exercise, in which one writes about a past time when things went very well and then focuses on this essay a little each day, “applying your strengths to a new situation.”

Quality of Life Therapy (QOLT) Intervention.

QOLT is a personal growth enterprise that helps folks move toward optimal functioning. The system is aimed at increasing happiness through “inner abundance.” The model encourages the practitioner’s strategic self-disclosure, assigning clients homework, and focusing on life balance, growth opportunities, and positive growth.

The method includes an inventory to identify areas going right in a client’s life and areas that might need to be shored up, taking stock of the client’s quality of life.

Expressive Writing.

Hopes and ideas become clearer and seem more achievable once committed to paper. Writing about “your best self” by imagining a future where you realized dreams, achieved goals, and worked hard increases happiness directly after writing and several weeks later. 

Assign expressive writing homework during periods of stress, transition, or uncertainty. 

Envisioning an optimistic and successful future increases motivation and happiness. But, under too much stress, positive expressive writing may be challenging, and the intervention might not work. Gauge the client’s emotional status and introduce this project when she feels it is most likely to pay off.

Sample instruction A: 

“Take a moment and imagine your life in the future. Picture the things that have happened to you, and all you have accomplished. Imagine, in particular, that everything has gone as well as it possibly could have. You have worked hard, overcome hurdles, and achieved the things you have always wanted. Describe this life.”

Sample instruction B: 

“Take a moment and imagine your best possible self. Imagine yourself as you believe you could be if you thought, behaved, and accomplished everything you hoped for. Consider your virtues, relationships, and successes. Describe this optimal you.”

Physical Exercise.

Research links exercise to good moods, better concentration, increased physical energy, and lower stress levels. Health is one of our most precious personal resources that requires continual maintenance.

For additional motivation to exercise, write a list of benefits from your various activities. Many of these activities may arguably be as beneficial as fitness training. Still, health is one personal commodity that one cannot purchase, while one might extend project deadlines or hire extra help on the job.

Keep yourself motivated by structuring exercise as a social activity with a partner, finding a sport that challenges you appropriately, and listing other work and personal goals that would benefit from your health.

Go outside. 

Good weather indeed increases a person’s positive emotions, but only if they go outside, even apparently increasing intelligence. Going for a walk eases resource access.

Meet people. 

Greater positivity leads people toward stronger social connections; conversely, people experience more positivity when they are with others. 

A coach becomes a vehicle for positive emotion just by being there and can also encourage the client to build more positive relationships.

Engage in something fully. 

Sometimes, people need distractions to cope with difficult times. The best distractions absorb the person fully and don’t leave any space for thinking about other things like work problems. Real strengths give us energy and come relatively easily. These are the best places to look for good “distractions.” Enjoyable but active things help people cope with loaded work schedules and difficult times.


Savoring is a positive predictor of happiness, slowing down to notice good things or to capture progress. 

For example, when catching up with a client at the start of a session, slow down their recount to stay with what they have done and notice their achievement. 

Subsequently, ask what they have learned from this, again providing a moment of savoring. 

In addition, at the end of a session, ask a client to take some time just to “be” with their coaching experience and learning and to extend this habitually to their important daily conversations. 

Positive Reminiscence.

Coaches should consider their “time orientation,” the time they focus on the past, present, and future. Experienced coaches recognize the need to explore the past, especially when clients have experienced success or have endured and recovered from failure.

Past successes and emotional high points are a deep well to draw from occasionally.

People are likely to reminisce when alone, when feeling down (making it a coping strategy), about relationships, and thus gain new insights, increasing happiness and feelings of escape from the present as a result. In addition, some people actively use strategies for storing positive memories for later use. For example, some people make an effort to remember the event by taking photographs or making a “mental note.” Others keep the memory alive by storing it after the event, such as by describing the story to a friend.

Reminiscing about a positive memory could proceed in two ways. First, one can relax, breathe deeply, and think freely about the memory with vivid imagery, continuing for about 10 minutes. Alternatively, hold a physical memento of a positive experience and focus on associated memories. You can be happier taking a few minutes daily to draw on past successes. To keep the intervention fresh, alternately use the two types of reminiscences, cognitive and memorabilia. 

As a first step, help the client develop a habit of “storing” positive memories. At the start of a session, briefly review the day’s or week’s positive events to get the client accustomed to attending to and holding such memories. 

Or, for some future successful occasion that you and your client foresee, brainstorm how to capture the images and feelings of the event. This makes future recall of this cherished event much easier.

A second way to engage is to list all memorabilia that one might use in guiding positive reminiscence; trophies, rewards, plaques, degrees, certificates, photographs, souvenirs, books, one’s first business card, name placard, reserved parking space, or company identification card. Non-work-specific mementos might be photo albums, old clothes, and parts of the city; any item with positive associations can be used as a catalyst for positive reminiscence.

In addition to using physical objects, work with your clients to think positively about the past. For example, suggest to your client to reflect on the wins daily to provide closure to the workday by clearly marking the end of the shift while also punching off the clock on a positive note.

However, reminiscence isn’t for everyone. For example, some might see the benefits of savoring good times more than others. In addition, positive reminiscence differs from rumination or dwelling on negative events. For example, simply replaying past triumphs increases wellbeing, while strategically analyzing these successes lowers wellbeing, distinguishing between savoring and analyzing.


Attention to the senses keeps a person’s awareness in the present. The mindfulness practice of noticing the senses breaks the cycle of worry or rumination about the past or future.

Meditate or pray. 

Practicing faith is associated with greater happiness. In addition, regular meditation leads to increased daily positive emotions, building increased mindfulness, a greater sense of purpose, social support, and less illness.


Forgiveness is a social harmonizer, a tool that keeps groups intact. For example, when someone violates rules, laws, or morals, offending others with careless talk, gossiping, falling through on a promise, acting inappropriately, or failing to fulfill an obligation, then to heal the relationship, in addition to authentic remorse, heartfelt regret, or a sincere apology, forgiveness is necessary to bandage these social hurts and restore them into good graces.

Showing mercy and compassion toward others often means we must relinquish our anger, stop nursing our wounds, and accept the transgressor.

Forgiveness is associated with better health and happiness and lower depression and anxiety.

Addressing forgiveness requires caution since the issues relate to one’s intimate being.

Another delicate issue is self-forgiveness ranging from evaluating past mistakes to allowing for situational factors that may have contributed to learning from the past.


A grateful attitude is a natural tendency to be thankful for your blessings and readily appreciate your successes and privileges. Gratitude helps people maintain close connections with others. Gratitude is linked to more helping behaviors, high positive emotions, life satisfaction, increased hope, and lower depression, anxiety, envy, and materialistic attitudes.

Gains in happiness are usually temporary as people adapt to them. On the other hand, gratitude is a mental process immune to adaptation because it is an active, conscious, and effortful way of appreciating life daily in a novel way.

Listing your blessing once a week is more beneficial than doing it daily. Apparently, listing too many blessings and doing so frequently becomes boring. Similarly, writing a gratitude letter increased anxiety in some research participants, perhaps because they worried about the letters becoming public.

Use gratitude interventions by having your client write five things she is grateful for once a week. 

One possible way to cultivate a more grateful attitude is to vow to do so publicly. You may work with your client to develop a pledge to begin noticing life’s blessings.


Altruism is associated with various desirable outcomes. For example, altruism increases happiness, and happiness increases altruism. In addition, in research, folks who felt more positive emotions were less selfish, spent more time helping others, reported more altruistic acts, were more likely to be engaged in community service, were generally more empathic, and were better organizational citizens.

Acting pro-socially, even in small ways, can make one’s job and life seem more rewarding. 

As a first step, track your kindness acts for a week and also associated feelings. Attending to the small good deeds you enact daily will boost your happiness noticeably. 

Offering acts of kindliness to others greatly increases the giver’s positive emotional experience and probably the receiver’s too.

Identify how you can give to others. For example, generously contributing to others’ wellbeing by immersing oneself in activity can greatly uplift one’s low spirits.