In tough times, entrepreneurs try the so-called science of happiness to build thriving companies

To understand how positive psychology—the so-called science of happiness—is being used by entrepreneurs, it helps to look at a company under siege. After all, it’s one thing to talk about the connections between a positive mental state and a healthy company when a business is running well, turning a profit, and grabbing new customers. But tougher times really test entrepreneurs, separating those who hunker down and hope the worst will pass from those who use their strengths to find opportunity amid rubble.

Robert Aliota is determined to be, when necessary, one of the latter. In 2004, Aliota, the owner of Carolina Seal, an 11-employee Charlotte (N.C.) company that makes custom-engineered parts for DuPont (DD) and John Deere (DE), among others, learned that a competitor had pounced on one of his key segments. Worse, the rival had hooked ExxonMobil (XOM), a customer that had eluded Aliota.

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