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:
The Happiness Advantage really encompasses many advantages, including:
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.
The benefits of being happy are deeper than feeling good—happiness has measurable, lasting effects on your mind and body:
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:
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:
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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.
The field of psychology has historically been...
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:
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 benefits of being happy are deeper than feeling good—happiness has measurable, lasting effects on your mind and body....
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?
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.
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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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.
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...
Developing a positive thought pattern takes practice.
List three things that you’re grateful for today.
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:
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:
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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).
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:
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).
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.
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...
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)?
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:
Furthermore, the positive effects of social interactions are twofold:
1. At the moment of interaction, you experience a...
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.
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,...