Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Everyone wants to be happy at work. Because work takes up a large part of each day, satisfaction with our job is an important component in overall well-being. Job satisfaction affects our health, both physically and mentally.

We all want to look forward to going to work. How we behave at work affects not just ourselves, but the overall atmosphere of our work place. Our attitude can determine how much pleasure we get from the jobs we do. We can take charge of our attitude and the atmosphere at work with sometning as simple as a decision to smile.

When people feel positively, they smile. Smiles really are contagious. This is explained by brain function. Our brains have “mirror neurons” that allow us to feel almost exactly what the people we are with are feeling. These brain cells are designed to pick up emotional cues from other people and reproduce that feeling in our own brains. That’s what empathy is, knowing what someone else is feeling. If you’ve ever felt uplifted simply by being around someone with a positive attitude, you know what I’m talking about.

In the same way, when you try to engage with someone who’s depressed, her negativity can invade your attitude. That’s because your mirror neurons are responding to her pain, which is not just emotional, but a physical experience as well. Researchers have found that when we feel strong negative emotions like social rejection, depression, or anger, activity increases in the same part of the brain that registers physical pain. So it makes sense when we say we’re “hurt” by other people. In our brains there’s no difference between physical pain and hurt feelings.

This physical response to negative interactions can translate into poor health, if continued for long periods. Unhappiness and criticism are contagious. In contrast, positive interactions can actually keep us from getting physically and emotionally ill. Positive interactions at work increase the overall productivity of the work place. Everyone benefits from positive connections.

Some people have a gift for connecting with others. In a positive work environment, people who take the time to put themselves in another’s shoes, are going to be those most willing to take the time and make the effort to help out a colleague. Rather than just focusing on their own work, they understand the need for group cooperation to meet larger objectives.

In addition to making an effort to smile, there are a couple of simple techniques that will improve the social atmosphere at work by helping us connect with others and foster a sense of teamwork. First, make eye contact. It’s essential to good interactions. This is how you engage the mirror neuron system of another person. If this makes you uncomfortable, practice speaking while looking at your own eyes in the mirror.

Another way to connect is to subtly mimic the other person’s posture or intonation. This is called matching. Matching signals that you’re on the same wavelength. You may already find yourself doing this with people you’re close to.

If you deliberately match someone you don’t know as well, you’ll find that you’ll feel more of a connection with that person.

A powerful way to feel more positively about you job is to choose to focus on what’s working, what’s right with the work day. One way to do this is to keep a daily journal of what goes right at work each day. Additionally you’ll feel more positively about your job experience by expressing gratitude to others who make a positive difference. Acts of kindness will make you and those you work with more satisfied with time spent on the job.

It’s your responsibility to bring your best self to work. You have the ability to be more satisfied with your job. Choose how you spend your day.

Jacque Ristau, MS, LPC

Copyright 2011, Jacque Ristau

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"If you concentrate on finding

whatever is good in every situation,

you will discover that your life will

suddenly be filled with gratitude, a

feeling that nurtures the soul."

Rabbi Harold Kushner