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The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.
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1-Page Summary1-Page Book Summary of The Happiness Advantage

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. The Happiness Advantage, published in 2010, is an introduction to this formula for success, based on research in neuroscience and the relatively new field of positive psychology. Author Shawn Achor offers insight as a leading expert on the connection between happiness and performance, an author of multiple books on the topic, and the founder of a research and consulting firm that optimizes people’s achievement through positive psychology.

Using research and personal anecdotes, Achor covers the following seven principles in this book:

  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 Happiness Advantage really encompasses many advantages, including:

  • Improved creativity
  • Stronger relationships
  • Better health
  • Increased energy

These benefits raise the quality of your personal life, and they also optimize your success at work. The principles of the Happiness Advantage have brought positive results even in the most stressful environments, including among big bank employees in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Whether your circumstances make it hard to be happy or you naturally have a lower happiness baseline, the seven principles explain how to be more positive and why it’s so essential to your success.

Principle #1: Reap the Benefits of Happiness

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

  1. Positive emotions release [restricted term] 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, and be open to new ideas.
  2. Positive emotions also reduce stress and anxiety in a phenomenon psychologists call “the undoing effect.” Some amount of stress is inevitable in life and in work, but when a stressful situation is imminent—for example, you have to make a presentation at an important meeting this afternoon—you can mitigate that stress by focusing on happy memories or watching a funny video.
  3. Happiness improves your physical health. 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.

Raise Your Happiness Baseline

Your happiness fluctuates all the time, but 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, and, in the long term, 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 actually having the experience. Think about experiences you’re looking forward to, and make plans that you can get excited about.
  • Giving back: 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—they can be small and simple, but they should be deliberate.
  • Cultivating a positive environment: Your surroundings impact your mindset, so fill yours with things that make you happy, such as pictures of loved ones.
  • Exercising: Exercise releases feel-good endorphins in your brain, increases motivation, reduces stress and anxiety, and promotes focus.
  • Investing in experiences: Spending money on activities (such as musical events and group dinners) or on other people 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.

Happiness Optimizes Work Success

The cognitive, emotional, and physical benefits of positivity mean that it also promotes productivity and success at work: Happy employees are more focused and innovative, suffer from less stress, and call out for fewer sick days. Managers and executives are in the best position to promote happiness because they can influence company policies and culture, they interact with many people, and they set an example for their employees. Company leaders can make their employees happier and more productive by:

  • Providing services such as health benefits, gym memberships, and on-site daycare.
  • Frequently recognizing and encouraging employees’ good work....

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Introduction

Most people strive to be happy—and yet, for so many, happiness always seems to be just out of reach, or just around the next corner. Have you told yourself too many times that, once you reach the next benchmark, then you will be happy? This common approach to life is predicated on the idea that happiness comes after success, and that success comes after hard work. But we’ve had the equation all wrong.

The Happiness Advantage, published in 2010, is an introduction to a relatively new formula for success, based on research in positive psychology and neuroscience. Under this paradigm, not only can you put your happiness first, but you can actually achieve greater success as a result. Author Shawn Achor offers insight as a leading expert on the connection between happiness and performance. In addition to studying under several pioneers of positive psychology, Achor helped create and teach a popular Harvard course on happiness, he has written multiple books about happiness and success, and he founded a research and consulting firm that optimizes people’s achievement through positive psychology.

Why Study Happiness?

The field of psychology has historically been...

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #1: Reap the Benefits of Happiness

As a result of the last few decades of positive psychology research, we now know that the long-standing belief that happiness results from success is wrong—in reality, happiness begets success. In this chapter, we’ll discuss how happiness promotes productivity and success, how you can raise your personal happiness baseline, and how employers and managers can use these principles to achieve results in the workplace.

First, let’s define happiness. One of the best known positive psychologists, Martin Seligman, breaks down happiness into three components:

  1. Pleasure
  2. Engagement
  3. Meaning

Pursuing pleasure alone may make you happy, but incorporating engagement and personal meaning in that pursuit will maximize the benefits of happiness (we’ll go into more detail about those benefits later in this chapter). This sentiment is reflected in Aristotle’s term “eudaimonia,” which translates to “human flourishing.” Throughout the book and summary, “happiness” is used as a shorthand to encompass all of these elements.

The Effects of Happiness

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

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Shortform Exercise: How Will You Raise Your Happiness?

You have the power to be happier.


Which happiness-building activities from the chapter (such as meditation, exercising, and giving back) will you try today?

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #2: Leverage the Power of a Positive Mindset

We’ve discussed the benefits of positivity and some strategies to raise your happiness, but sometimes the biggest obstacles are your own persistent, negative thoughts. Think of your mind as a seesaw. If a light person sits on one end and a heavy person sits on the other, the heavy person will be on the ground while the light person will be suspended in the air. However, if you place the fulcrum (the center point on which the lever balances) closer to the heavy person, that person will be easier to lift. When it comes to being happier, if your mind is entrenched in negative thought, it’s like moving the fulcrum away from the heavy object—it becomes very difficult to lift. On the other hand, if you focus on more positive thoughts, you leverage the power of your fulcrum by moving it closer to the heavy object, and your power for positivity is unbounded.

In this chapter, we’ll discuss how your mindset affects your efforts and your actions, and how to leverage this power to achieve success.

Perception Is Powerful

If you’ve ever distracted an upset child with a joke, you know that you can’t be sad and happy at the same time. Your brain has a limited capacity to...

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Shortform Exercise: How Do You Think About Your Responsibilities?

Reframe how you think about your most loathsome tasks, and reap the rewards of greater positivity.


Describe one task (at work or at home) that you typically dread.

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #3: Train Your Brain to See the Positive

We’ve discussed the wide-ranging benefits of happiness as well as the power of a positive mindset. In this chapter, we’ll explore how to train your brain to focus on the positive instead of the negative. The more you engage in any pattern of thinking, the more your brain will use the same formula to evaluate other things in life. In gaming, this phenomenon has been dubbed the Tetris Effect: After playing hours of the tile-matching video game, gamers saw objects in their everyday lives as shapes that they needed to fit into gaps, as if they were still playing the game.

Similarly, professions that hinge on finding problems and errors—such as tax auditors and lawyers—create similar mental patterns. While such training might be beneficial for work, it can cause them to habitually seek out problems in their personal lives, as well. For example, a tax auditor actually created an Excel spreadsheet to track the mistakes his wife made. Similarly, athletes often have a hard time switching off their competitive drive. **If your brain is in the habit of recognizing negatives, then that’s all you see, but if you train your brain to look for positives, you can reset your mental filter to...

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Shortform Exercise: How Can You Focus on the Positive?

Developing a positive thought pattern takes practice.


List three things that you’re grateful for today.

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #4: Learn and Grow Through Adversity

As much as you may be able to improve your positive mindset, it can be particularly difficult to be optimistic in the face of adversity. When you confront a challenge, you have three options:

  1. Keep circling around the problem, which will result in no change.
  2. Make bad choices that create further negative consequences, thereby putting you in an even worse position than before.
  3. Take the setback as an opportunity to build resilience, improve your abilities, and increase your fortitude. This is the Third Path, or the act of “falling up.”

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. In fact, the most traumatic and heart-wrenching experiences can also be the most positive and transformative when people remain optimistic and find ways to rise above their hardships. People who choose to fall up in the face of traumas—such as chronic and life-threatening illnesses, natural disasters, and military combat—experience Post-Traumatic Growth or Adversarial Growth, which results in increased:

  • Compassion
  • Openness
  • Personal strength
  • Satisfaction with life
  • ...

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Shortform Exercise: Do You Fall Down or Fall Up in a Crisis?

Reflect on your typical reaction when facing adversity, and practice falling up.


Describe a challenge you’ve recently dealt with or are currently confronting (such as tensions with your boss or financial issues at home).

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #5: Stay in Control Through Incremental Achievements

In the last chapter, we talked about the benefits of finding a way to rise above challenges by learning and growing from them. In order to fall up, you have to feel that you have some control over your fate—but control can seem elusive when you’re stressed and overwhelmed. In this chapter, we’ll discuss the benefits of feeling in control, the reasons you sometimes lose that feeling, and strategies for getting it back a little at a time.

Since your perception shapes your reality, the actual amount of control you have matters less than how much control you think you have. That doesn’t mean that you should falsely and foolishly claim control over things like the weather—rather, it has to do with how you interpret situations, similarly to the way your explanatory style determines how you make sense of challenges. There are two lenses through which you can interpret your control:

  1. People who have an internal locus of control believe that they can have a direct impact on their futures. When these people face a challenge or setback, they reflect on how they could have performed better, and then they improve for future situations.
  2. **People who have an external...

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Shortform Exercise: Are You in Control?

Regain your sense of control over a daunting task or situation.


Describe something that’s currently causing you to feel stressed or overwhelmed (such as a project at work or an issue among your family members).

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #6: Create Positive Habits

There’s no use in knowing that you should do something if you don’t actually do it—but having the knowledge doesn’t make it any easier to carry out. For example, you probably know that you should eat fruits and vegetables every day, and that you should get eight hours of sleep each night, but do you always follow that advice? In this chapter, we’ll explain why you don’t always do the things you should, how to stop your unhealthy habits, and how to implement healthy ones.

Your Willpower Is Limited

A major factor preventing you from doing all the things you should do is willpower—or lack thereof. People have limited willpower, and they only have one source of it, meaning that you don’t have a bucket of work-related willpower as well as a bucket of personal willpower. Throughout the day, small acts like avoiding a donut in the break room and staying focused during a long, tedious work meeting tax your willpower, so you may not have any left at the end of the day when you get home and you have to choose between a burger and a salad for dinner.

One study highlighted people’s finite willpower by telling participants not to eat for three hours before the experiment...

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Shortform Exercise: What Positive Habit Will You Form?

Turn healthy behaviors into habits for long-term benefits.


What is one positive habit you want to start (for example, writing in your journal every day)?

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Principle #7: Optimize the Benefits of Social Connections

When you have a daunting, stressful project on your plate, you may be inclined to hunker down and isolate yourself from seemingly superfluous social interactions—eating lunch at your desk, working nights and weekends, and canceling social time with friends and family. However, this approach actually hurts your productivity, instead of helping it, because people need social connection for their productivity and personal well-being. In other words, when you avoid social interaction in order to focus on your project, you’re unwittingly creating a bigger obstacle between you and the finish line—and, by the time you get there, you’ll have no energy left for the next project.

By contrast, successful people know that they need social support to get through challenging times. When you’re dealing with a big project at work or a challenging situation at home, the most important thing you can do is to maintain your social connections. Social bonds increase your:

  • Energy
  • Engagement
  • Happiness
  • Productivity
  • Resilience
  • Sense of purpose

Furthermore, the positive effects of social interactions are twofold:

1. At the moment of interaction, you experience a...

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Shortform Exercise: How Can You Use Social Support to Be Happier?

Reflect on how you can reap the benefits of social support when you’re facing daunting tasks.


Describe one big, stressful project that you recently worked on.

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The Happiness Advantage Summary Conclusion: Your Happiness Is Contagious

The principles of the Happiness Advantage work in concert, meaning a little positivity snowballs to create even greater benefits. For example, when you train your brain to see the positive (Principle #3), you’ll see more opportunity for growth when faced with adversity, thus you’ll be better positioned to fall up, or find the Third Path (Principle #4). Additionally, if you invest in your social connections (Principle #7), the community support you develop can keep you accountable and help you form new, healthy habits (Principle #6). The more you implement the principles of the Happiness Advantage, the more your efforts will reinforce each other and create a virtuous cycle of positivity and success.

And the cycle doesn’t end with you—your happiness creates ripple effects that benefit the people around you. Your brain has cells called mirror neurons, which read and mimic the emotions, reactions,...

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Table of Contents

  • 1-Page Summary
  • Introduction
  • Principle #1: Reap the Benefits of Happiness
  • Exercise: How Will You Raise Your Happiness?
  • Principle #2: Leverage the Power of a Positive Mindset
  • Exercise: How Do You Think About Your Responsibilities?
  • Principle #3: Train Your Brain to See the Positive
  • Exercise: How Can You Focus on the Positive?
  • Principle #4: Learn and Grow Through Adversity
  • Exercise: Do You Fall Down or Fall Up in a Crisis?
  • Principle #5: Stay in Control Through Incremental Achievements
  • Exercise: Are You in Control?
  • Principle #6: Create Positive Habits
  • Exercise: What Positive Habit Will You Form?
  • Principle #7: Optimize the Benefits of Social Connections
  • Exercise: How Can You Use Social Support to Be Happier?
  • Conclusion: Your Happiness Is Contagious