Shawn Achor: The Importance of Happiness

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Happiness Advantage" by Shawn Achor. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What does Shawn Achor say about happiness? What are the many advantages of being a happy and positive person?

The Happiness Advantage is an introduction to a relatively new formula for success, based on research in positive psychology and neuroscience. Shawn Achor’s happiness principles are introduced, promising incredible results from having a positive mindset.

Here’s what Shawn Achor has to say about happiness.

Shawn Achor: Happiness, Explained

Most people think that happiness comes after success, and that success comes after hard work. But we’ve had the equation all wrong: Happiness isn’t the result of success—it’s the cause of it. In The Happiness Advantage, author Shawn Achor introduces this formula for success, based on research in neuroscience and the relatively new field of positive psychology. Achor offers insight as a leading expert on the connection between happiness and performance and the founder of a research and consulting firm that optimizes people’s achievement through positive psychology. 

This book explains Shawn Achor’s happiness advantage—from increased creativity to improved health—and how a positive mindset can change your personal and professional life. In addition, Shawn Achor’s happiness strategies will help you adopt a positive mindset, remain optimistic in the face of adversity, and raise your happiness baseline. 

If it’s true that happiness begets success, how can you become happier? Using research and personal anecdotes, here are Shawn Achor’s happiness principles:

  1. Reap the benefits of happiness: Happiness promotes productivity and success, and employers and managers can use these principles to achieve results in the workplace. 
  2. Leverage the power of a positive mindset: Your mindset affects your efforts and your actions.
  3. Train your brain to see the positive: When you develop a positive thinking pattern, you program your brain to focus on the positive and optimize the benefits of positivity. 
  4. Learn and grow through adversity: Adversity is inevitable, but, if you stay positive during challenging times, you will not only carry on, but also learn and grow through the process. 
  5. Stay in control through incremental achievements: Focus on small, manageable goals to keep you in control and build your confidence and motivation.
  6. Create positive habits: Maintain healthy behaviors by turning them into habits.
  7. Optimize the benefits of social connections: Social support raises your happiness and productivity.

The Benefits of Happiness 

The benefits of being happy are deeper than feeling good—happiness has measurable, lasting effects on your mind and body. 

Mental and Emotional Benefits of Happiness 

First, positive emotions release dopamine and serotonin, which make you feel good while also activating your brain’s learning centers. This effect improves your ability to:

  • Think quickly and creatively
  • Analyze
  • Problem-solve
  • Organize and store new information
  • Be open to new ideas

A number of studies have illustrated the cognitive benefits of happiness: 

  • Doctors who were primed with candy—which boosted their moods—correctly diagnosed patients twice as quickly as doctors who received no candy.
  • Four-year-olds put blocks together more quickly if they were asked to think about something happy before starting the task.
  • Students who were told to recall the best day of their lives before commencing a standardized math test performed better than their classmates.

Additionally, positive emotions reduce stress and anxiety in a phenomenon psychologists call “the undoing effect.” Some amount of stress in life or in work is inevitable, but when a stressful event or situation is imminent—for example, you have to make a presentation at an important meeting this afternoon—you may be able to mitigate that stress by focusing on happy memories or watching a funny video. 

Physical Benefits of Happiness 

Happiness doesn’t just make you feel better emotionally, it also makes you feel better physically. In one experiment, researchers surveyed participants about their levels of happiness, and then injected them with the cold virus. The following week, researchers found that the happier participants fought off the virus more quickly and had fewer objective symptoms than their less happy peers. Additionally, research revealed that unhappy workers take 15 more sick days each year than their happy coworkers—this means that companies can increase productivity and decrease absenteeism and healthcare costs by creating a happy work environment. 

Professional Benefits of Happiness

Given the cognitive and physical benefits of happiness, it should be no surprise that research shows that positivity increases productivity at work. One study followed 275 employees over 18 months and found that those who were happiest at the beginning received better pay and evaluations by the end of the period, even when controlling for other factors. In another study, researchers found that happier undergraduates earned higher incomes 19 years later than their unhappy classmates, regardless of initial wealth levels. 

How to Raise Your Happiness 

Here’s some helpful advice from Shawn Achor about happiness and how to increase it.

Your happiness fluctuates all the time, but everyone has a distinct baseline of happiness. In order to reap more benefits of the Happiness Advantage, you can actually take steps to permanently raise your happiness baseline. Consider incorporating some of these happiness-building activities into your day-to-day routine: 

  • Meditating: Five minutes of meditation a day can make you more calm and aware. In the long term, it could permanently rewire your brain for greater happiness, boost your immune system, and lower your stress. 
  • Building up positive anticipation: Getting excited about an upcoming event activates your brain’s pleasure centers as much as having the actual experience. Think about experiences you’re looking forward to, and make plans that you can get excited about.
  • Giving back: Research shows that people who perform acts of kindness are much happier than people who don’t. One day each week, try to perform five acts of kindness. These acts can be small and simple, but they should be planned proactively (rather than simply patting yourself on the back for something you have already done). 
  • Cultivating a positive environment: Your surroundings impact your mindset, so fill yours with things that make you happy, such as pictures of loved ones. Spending 20 minutes outside in good weather can also put you in a happier mood, as will eliminating negative stimuli, such as violent television.
  • Exercising: The positive effects of exercise are powerful—not only does it release feel-good endorphins in your brain, but it also increases your motivation, reduces your stress and anxiety, and promotes focus. Incorporate regular exercise into your routine. 
  • Investing in experiences: Spending money on activities (such as musical events and group dinners) or on other people—sometimes referred to as “prosocial spending”—creates more meaningful and enduring happiness than spending money on yourself. 
  • Tapping into your talents: Using a skill that you excel at or making the most of an ingrained character trait (such as a love of learning) can lower depression and increase happiness. 

Shawn Achor’s Happiness Advantage at Work

For Shawn Achor, happiness is a huge benefit in the workplace. Some companies have already caught onto the benefits of cultivating positive emotions in the workplace. This can take many forms—for example, Google reportedly stocks video games in the break room and encourages engineers to bring their dogs to the office. Additionally, at one Toyota location, the company started using a training program focused on employees’ strengths, and productivity increased.

Managers and executives are in the best position to promote happiness because:

  • They have the authority to influence company policies and culture.
  • They’re likely to interact with a large number of people throughout the office.
  • They already have the responsibility of setting an example for their employees.

There are a number of ways that company leaders can make their employees happier and, thus, more productive, including: 

  • Providing services such as health benefits, gym memberships, and on-site daycare. Coors reported a $6.15 return for every $1 spent on its corporate fitness program.
  • Frequently recognizing and encouraging employees’ good work. This can be as simple as a “well done” email or a brief recognition at the end of a meeting. Delivering that feedback with a sincere and warm tone increases the positive impact. One study revealed that teams who considered their managers to be encouraging performed 31% better than those with less encouraging managers. Even in environments like the military—which are often perceived to be deliberately harsh and intense—outcomes improve when commanding officers provide open and positive feedback to squad members.

Scientists have actually quantified the ideal ratio of positive and negative comments in interactions within groups to create success in the workplace. This ratio, which is referred to as the Losada Line, is 2.9013 positive-to-negative interactions. In other words, employees must hear about three positive comments to counteract one negative comment. Furthermore, a 6-to-1 ratio optimizes productivity and success. One mining company was experiencing substantial losses, but when it increased its ratio from 1.15 to 3.56 (about three-and-a-half positive comments for each negative one), production improved by more than 40 percent. 

(Shortform note: Three scientists—Nicholas J.L. Brown, Alan D. Sokal, and Harris L. Friedman—criticized the Losada Line in their paper, “The complex dynamics of wishful thinking: The critical positivity ratio.” The mathematical equations used to calculate the Losada Line are used to calculate the flow of liquids and gases in physics and engineering. The critical scientists insist that equations that calculate the boiling temperature of water do not apply to human behavior.)

Whether you’re focused on improving your individual performance or raising the achievement of your entire team of employees, prioritizing happiness as a vehicle for attaining greater success pays dividends.  

Shawn Achor: The Importance of Happiness

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Shawn Achor's "The Happiness Advantage" at Shortform .

Here's what you'll find in our full The Happiness Advantage summary :

  • How happiness isn’t the result of success, it’s the cause of it
  • The benefits of happiness—from increased creativity to improved health
  • Strategies for adopting a positive mindset and raising your happiness baseline

Elizabeth Shaw

Elizabeth graduated from Newcastle University with a degree in English Literature. Growing up, she enjoyed reading fairy tales, Beatrix Potter stories, and The Wind in the Willows. As of today, her all-time favorite book is Wuthering Heights, with Jane Eyre as a close second. Elizabeth has branched out to non-fiction since graduating and particularly enjoys books relating to mindfulness, self-improvement, history, and philosophy.

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