Plasticity Labs co-founder Jennifer Moss. Photo: Arthur Mola

In 2009, Jennifer Moss’s husband was lying on a hospital bed connected to a ventilator. He had been diagnosed with Guillain-Barré Syndrome, in which the body’s immune system attacks the nerves, eventually paralyzing the patient’s whole body.

Moss was over eight months pregnant at the time, and terrified about what the future held for her family. The doctors attempted a new treatment on Jim Moss, and rebooted his immune system. The couple decided from that point on to practice gratefulness everyday for Jim’s near escape from death.

The incident flipped the Mosses’ world upside down. A professional lacrosse player for the San Jose Sharks, Jim Moss could no longer walk. The couple did plenty of reading about healing and neuroscience and worked with a physiotherapist. But Jennifer Moss believes the more important factor in her husband’s quick recovery—he was walking again in six week—was their narrative and positive attitude, which garnered the support of therapists and friends.

Moss and her husband soon realized that many people at work were very unhappy, and were inspired by their own experience to help organizations cultivate these happiness traits. Plasticity Labs, their Waterloo based company, offers a software platform for organizations to help companies create long-term happiness by training employees to decrease negative behaviours and adopt new positive patterns based on the science of neuroplasticity.

“You have the ability, through the plasticity of the brain, to change your neural pathways through habitual practices of gratitude,” said Moss, Plasticity’s Chief Marketing Office, speaking at the PROFIT/Chatelaine W100 Idea Exchange in Toronto on June 5. She said happiness is not an overarching thing you try to seek out, but a build up of what she calls the “H.E.R.O.” traits: hope, efficacy, resilience and optimism.

“People who practice gratitude daily are the highest performing people,” said Moss. She cited research that these gratitude practitioners have access to 30 percent more of their brain, experience less stress and live longer. “There’s no ceiling to that, so you can actually practice it so it’s limitless in the brain.”

Moss offered four tips for leaders and managers to better engage their employees:

Offer more constructive comments

“When looking to engage your employees, there can’t be too much optimism,” said Moss. “There’s a really interesting science about the perfect rule of optimism and pessimism when it comes to critical analysis and working with your employees and peers: the 5:1 rule.”

Offer five healthy, positive, constructive comments to every critical, negative comment, instructed Moss. “You can still ask people to do the things you need them to do, but you gotta balance it so there’s better intention to your leadership.”

Practice gratitude everyday

Gratitude exercises should be habitual. Every day for a few minutes, reflect on your day and write down what you’re grateful for, Moss suggested. “ There’s something that shifts when you practice it consistently,” she said. “You start to think about your own happiness and the happiness of the people around you.” Moss suggested that managers make the effort to ask their employees what they’re grateful for every day for two weeks, as a start.

Do the small things frequently

“It’s the frequent, small moments, and not the massive, big celebrations that make a big difference in your life,” said Moss. There’s no big event that’s suddenly going to engage your employees. What really matter to them are daily thank you’s and moments where you ask about their life and family.

Change the way you think about stress

“We’ve been talking about stress as something that’s bad for a long time, but…it’s not stress that kills us, but the way we interpret stress,” said Moss. A large study conducted on 30,000 people over a period of eight years found that highly stressed people that interpreted stress in a healthy way lived longer and had lower risk of a heart attack. “People who had no stress actually weren’t any healthier than people who had high stress that interpreted it badly,” Moss pointed out.

Learning to embrace change and cultivating hopefulness and resilience traits could result in a 12–20% gain leading to a longer and healthier life, she said. “If you reflect on it, you can change the way you think about stress and mold your brain to a mentally strong one.”

MORE WAYS TO ENGAGE YOUR EMPLOYEES:

What are you doing to build a happy, collaborative culture? Share your strategies and experiences using the comments section below.

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