The Good Life with Eric Karpinski · ShiftWorkPlace

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E48 The Good Life with Eric Karpinski


Inclusion, connection and social support: A positive psychology professional teaches us about the key components of happy work life.

Bio for Eric Karpinski

Eric Karpinski is a positive psychology author and speaker and has been on the cutting edge of bringing positive psychology tools to workplaces for over 10 years, with clients that include Intel, Facebook, IBM, T-Mobile, Genentech and many others.

He is a key member of Shawn Achor’s GoodThink team, trained as a scientist at Brown University and has an MBA from the Wharton School. McGraw Hill is publishing his new book, Put Happiness to Work, which has been endorsed by Adam Grant, Shawn Achor and Daniel Pink.

Eric married his college sweetheart 28 years ago and lives with her in San Diego. He has two children, a college freshman and a high school sophomore. In his spare time, he enjoys beekeeping and rescuing feral beehives to preserve their genetic diversity.

Episode highlight

As a child, Eric Karpinski moved around a lot. He hated saying goodbye to old friends but loved making new ones. Listen in on how he takes his love for friendships, harmony and positivity into his work as a positive psychology speaker and author.



  • “I love using positive psychology and neuroscience research to help people figure out how to be happier at work and to help leaders create more engaged teams by focussing on specific types of happiness that motivate and inspire their teams, both to care for each other and to really go after difficult goals.”
  • “Positive psychology is really the study of what is working well with people… When we’re flourishing… when we have positive emotions and we have meaning in our lives and we have strong relationships, what does that look like, and how do more of us get there.”
  • “The importance of psychological safety at work is hugely important and so how do we create ways that people can share different opinions in a way that’s listened to and that people can really hear and then… you go forward and make the best decision because you’ve got the input from everybody.”
  • “I’m a white male and so I got to live in a world that was made for me.”
  • “Have that first conversation, shake that first hand or rub that first elbow… and start that dialogue so you can find that commonality or find that common purpose or the common things that you have together in order to create a social connection.”
  • “When we talk about happiness, we think we’re supposed to be happy all the time, that there’s this expectation that… anytime we want, we can just be happy and we should be happy.”
  • “There’s just no possibility of being happy all the time. Happiness is a fleeting emotion and all we can do is plant seeds for it and hope that it grows but if we expect it to, now we’re just destroying it.”
  • “Look for something good that you can share.”
  • “Most people don’t care about their engagement but they do care deeply about their happiness… If we can position our efforts and engagement where they overlap with activated types of happiness, with activated positive emotions, then we can really have everyone pulling in the same direction and create a situation where everybody wins, every individual contributor feels happy and feels these positive emotions and as an organization or as a team, we’re reaching those goals, we’re taking on challenging things and [we’re] able to get there.”


Childhood Incidents

Growing up in a military family, Eric moved often across the USA, going to local schools and learning about the different microcultures. However, being an extrovert, Eric found it hard to leave the friends he had made and try to make new ones each time. Being excluded as a newcomer, in the beginning, taught him “the importance of inclusion”, and he would form a community with the loners.

Eric’s father had retired from active duty when Eric was a high school senior. He once observed his father loading a lawnmower into the car, and discovered that for four years, his father had been volunteering at a group home for people with mental health disorders. Eric was inspired by his father’s quiet generosity and “the value of giving for giving’s sake and not for status”.

Eric used to be the ‘peacemaking’ vice president of his class in high school in DC and organizes his high school reunions to this day. He finds it interesting to observe how people have evolved and changed and how relationships can form, strengthen and overlap even 30 years later. To this day, he favours harmony, though he now accepts and sees value in creative conflict.

Influential groups

As a white male, Eric recognizes the privileges and biases he grew up with as a member of the dominant culture. He consciously works towards inclusion and equity, being proactive about learning the effects of culture and his reactions to it.

As an ivy-league-educated achiever, Eric chased his definition of success: “prestige, money and power”. He had everything he had dreamed of and more, yet he was battling anxiety, depression and insomnia.

One business school summer, he attended the Burning Man Festival, a community arts festival in Nevada. He felt a sense of belonging with the culture of gifting, love, acceptance and creativity, and helped him heal from “the disease of materialism”, leading him to his career path today.

Temperament and Personality Influences

Eric has always been an extrovert and this was reinforced by moving often, finding commonality, connection and community wherever he went. He claims one of his strengths is to “WOO, winning others over”, according to the Clifton Strengths Assessment.

Cultural Epiphanies

Eric observes that the ambitious work ethic is part of the white culture, which drove him to success but away from happiness. Even as a positive psychology teacher, he had to work on his anxiety, depression and insomnia and acknowledge that happiness is always a work in progress.

Advice to an Employer

Eric works in a natural flow in a team with the understanding of their social dynamic. He desires space to create social connection and a positive, supportive, appreciative, and communicative culture with the autonomy to reach goals on his own.

More Great Insights!

Eric explains that there are two kinds of negative emotions, necessary and gratuitous. Necessary negative emotions come from negative situations and must be acknowledged to avoid emotional leakage and outbursts. Gratuitous negative emotions are self-deprecating ones that need to reduce.

Eric recommends doing a 3-minute gratitude exercise daily, listing 3 things going well in your life. This could be done at the beginning of meetings too, asking employees to share one thing they appreciate about any coworker, to increase gratitude and appreciation at work.

Eric’s book, Put Happiness To Work, lays out an ‘action buffet’ with activities to drive happiness and engagement at work. He suggests experimenting with them and picking ones that work best for you. Buy a copy for your positive colleague at work too, so they can reinforce your efforts to happiness!

Eric’s book recommendations are Give and Take by Adam Grant and Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson. Also check out Sticky Situations, a blog he writes with his wife about using positive psychology at work. You can also reach out to him on LinkedIn or Twitter.


After becoming depressed despite an Ivy-League education and a successful career, Eric Karpinski decided to understand how his culture and life had kept him away from happiness, and how he could find his way back.


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