The six key ingredients in Dr Tim Sharp's recipe for happiness

Discovering and leveraging one’s innate strengths is one of six key strategies that will help individuals lead happier lives both personally and professionally.


There are six key strategies for happiness – one of which is for people to discover and utilise their innate strengths in their chosen line of work, according to Dr Tim Sharp, an international leader in the field of positive psychology, and founder and CHO (Chief Happiness Officer) of The Happiness Institute.


Dr Tim Sharp


He said there is a significant body of research that suggests that people who are more aware of their psychological strengths and use them more often are not only happier but also more successful at work. “This has been shown to be a powerful force for success in the workplace,” said Dr Sharp, who has three degrees in psychology (including a Ph.D.) combined with decades of experience as an academic, clinician and coach.


“Just as we all have faults and failings, so too do we have strengths and positive attributes, and too many of us don’t think enough about our positive attributes. We don’t appreciate them enough. We don’t focus on them enough. We don’t use them enough. This isn’t about narcissism or vanity. It’s just about being realistic, it’s about using what we’ve got, what we’re best at.”


Dr Sharp, who recently spoke at a UNSW Sydney “in conversation” alumni event, said that, historically, there had been a stronger focus on weaknesses and addressing these – rather than discovering and harnessing strengths in life and at work.


“A lot of us in clinical psychology are to blame for this, I suppose. I mean, back in my clinical psychology days, all we really focused on were weaknesses, and a lot of us focus a lot on our weaknesses and our faults and failings. And we all have faults and failings. I mean, none of us are perfect, and that’s okay to think about your imperfections and to try and improve.”


While it is good to be aware of one’s faults and failings (and do something about them) Dr Sharp said this process is important in self-improvement and self-development.


Read more: Three useful things to know about mentally healthy workplaces


Six key strategies for happiness

During his presentation, Dr Sharp detailed six key strategies people can adopt to be more happy, based on decades of research reviews and working with thousands of individuals. “Happiness is something you can ‘choose’ proactively,” he said. CHOOSE is an acronym for:


C: Clarity and control. Being clear on your priorities and what’s important to you, and focusing on what you can control, rather than what you can’t control.


H: Health. Happiness is closely linked to our physical wellbeing. Exercise, eating well, and getting good sleep can cultivate good mental wellbeing.


O: Optimism. Unrealistic positive thinking can be just as problematic as other unpleasant emotions. The key to hope and optimism is that it needs to be grounded in being realistic.


O: Others. One of the biggest mistakes/myths is happiness is always about “me”. Taking care of yourself is important but happiness is also about maintaining good, quality relationships with others. Happy people are often altruistic.


S: Strengths. Too many of us don’t focus enough on our positive attributes. This is not about being vain or arrogant, it’s about being realistic. People who are more aware of their psychological strengths are happier.


E: Enjoying the moment. We can all benefit from fun, play and laughter – and these moments can energise us.


People who are more aware of their psychological strengths and use them more often are not only happier but also more successful at work. Image: Shutterstock


“When it comes to happiness, I’ve said for a couple of decades now, that happiness is something you choose. And I don’t say that as a frivolous, throwaway comment. Sometimes that’s used frivolously, and I think it’s sometimes it’s a bit unhelpful to say, ‘just choose to be happy’,” said Dr Sharp.


“We do want to take responsibility for our own happiness as much as we can, even though we can’t control everything. But we do want to take responsibility and be proactive.”


Why healthy living is important for happiness

The second letter in the above (H) stands for healthy living. While many people think about happiness as a psychological concept or an emotion (which it is), Dr Sharp said it is very closely linked to various kinds of health.


“Mental health is very closely linked to physical health, and our happiness is very closely linked to our physical wellbeing,” said Dr Sharp, who explained there are a number of basic but important steps to enhancing the quality of physical lives – which will in turn enhance the quality of psychological lives.


“These are pretty obvious things that you probably know about. What I’m talking about are things like exercise, eating well, getting good sleep. Now you don’t need to become a marathon-running vegan (not that there’s anything wrong with marathon-running vegans). But we do need to move a bit, and it’s hard to be happy if you’re sick and tired all the time,” he said.


In addition to exercising and eating well, Dr Sharp said it is essential to get good sleep as well. “Too many of us are tired all the time because we just don’t prioritise our sleep. That’s one of the main pillars of psychological wellbeing and physical wellbeing,” he said.


Subscribe to BusinessThink for the latest research, analysis and insights from UNSW Business School


14 July 2022.