Paige Raetz is the Senior Director of Client Experience, and Bethany Chadd is the Clinical Director for Southwest Autism Resource and Research Center (SARRC), where they’re integrating the skills of happiness into their work lives, from meetings to seeking daily moments of joy. SARRC is part of Proof Positive’s Autism Wellbeing Alliance, a community dedicated to enhancing wellbeing outcomes for autistic people, providers, families, and communities.

Paige and Bethany also attended Proof Positive’s Learning Institute, a professional development workshop for a select group of leaders in autism services. At the Learning Institute, they enhanced their expertise in the science and skills of wellbeing and learned how these skills can be adapted for autism intervention. Now, Paige and Bethany are positively transforming their organization’s culture. We asked them what integrating the skills of happiness looks like at the organizational level and why it’s important to spread happiness to others. Here’s what they told us: 

Paige: With staff, we’ve started to talk about Character Strengths to kick off our weekly meetings. We call it “Peak of the Week” and discuss peaks that the client achieved within the week, and staff can identify which character strengths they demonstrated that helped support the client in achieving that positive outcome. It’s important to celebrate the positive moments and reflect on what strengths they tapped into in order to create those moments. 

We’ve also encouraged our staff to take the VIA Character Strengths survey and had a meeting dedicated to showcasing character strengths on our team and across the organization. We even created Taylor Swift-style friendship bracelets with our signature (top five) Character Strengths together. When staff started recognizing each other’s strengths, we saw increased job satisfaction. What a difference working and living through the lens of strengths can make! 

Another strategy we use is we start meetings with Jolts of Joy (a skill that intentionally induces positive emotions). We each share five positive or fun things we intend to do during the workday to boost our positivity. Discovering how others experience joy and stealing their ideas is fun! We’re also accountable to each other for implementing those micro-moments of joy, which in turn gives us a positive conversation point with colleagues. We’ll ask what the person did to experience joy and how they felt afterward. We’ve even started to frontload joy by planning a five-minute Jolts of Joy break before a tough meeting. Some staff like to incorporate movement by taking a five-minute walk before or after the meeting. 

Our gratitude potluck lunch was another helpful way to spread happiness in our organization. We left jars and leaves (gratitude slips) for staff to write out what they were grateful for on the leaf. Not only did this activity help us reflect on what we’re grateful for, it allowed us to come together across departments and appreciate other people’s perspectives. It only takes a few minutes, gives people space to think about others, and can help people feel more positive about their interactions with people from other departments they don’t work closely with. 

Bethany: To go along with the meetings theme, I’ve found the skills of happiness lend themselves to our meeting structure. It’s natural to begin our quarterly planning meeting by reflecting on What Went Well (a skill to practice gratitude) last quarter and setting our intentions for the upcoming quarter. Using the PERMA+ Snapshot tool (a skill that gives a snapshot rating of how you’re doing regarding Positive Emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Mattering, Accomplishments, and +Health), our team of 10 clinical supervisors gauge which elements are higher and lower and identify one element of PERMA+ to focus on for the week. Then, they can implement it with their clinical therapists, and then the clinical therapists’ work will trickle down to their clients. For example, we’ve incorporated Character Strengths with some of our clients who are part of the First Place Transition Academy. It’s a program where young adults living independently will do workshops on living skills and Character Strengths during spring break. 

Why is it important to learn about the science and skills of happiness? 

Paige: Research on job satisfaction and retention tells a story of high staff burnout and turnover rates. We know one way to make a positive difference is to leverage your staff’s strengths. Everyone needs to feel satisfied, and especially when working in autism services, staff need to feel like they’re making a difference. When staff members feel pride in their work, it trickles down to clients. Staff satisfaction makes a big impact on the culture of your company. Staff can’t be at their best if they don’t feel their best. 

Bethany: Mattering (an element of the PERMA+ Theory of Wellbeing) is important, and seeing happy and positive colleagues feels good. Staff are working with autistic people for a reason, and they want to feel like our organization is making an impact. The more people can tie meaning to their work, the more positive outcomes they—and their clients—will have. 

Why is it important to spread the skills of happiness to others? 

Paige: Our families and teams see a complete shift in their attitudes when they adopt the skills of happiness into their daily routines. People don’t usually focus on happiness or intentionally build positive habits. When we practice the skills of happiness, we become more willing to understand and work with each other to solve complex problems. And it feels good when I’m engaged in my work. It’s easy to focus on what needs fixing, and this mindset makes it difficult to be creative. When we spread the skills of happiness, we can change the world. We need to put it in the hands of adults and kids everywhere because there’s a ripple effect on solving challenges. These skills can enhance your ability to tackle life’s challenges. 

Bethany: We all want happiness for others. And why not? Access to the skills is free on Proof Positive’s website, and it’s easy for others to check out for themselves. In today’s world, especially people with autism (and the people who care about them) experience higher rates of depression and anxiety. Families are stressed. It doesn’t hurt to try out the skills of happiness to see how they can work for you and your staff members or family. 

Paige:  Overall, I’ve seen SARRC reap the benefits through creative problem-solving and team collaboration. Our interactions with each other are more positive and active. Now, colleagues reach out across departments and want to work together. The skills of happiness have brought us all together. 

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