Based on the largest study ever conducted on happiness and human potential (a survey conducted by the author of more than 1,600 students), Harvard lecturer Shawn Achor shares seven core principles of positive psychology that each one of us can use to improve our performance, grow our careers, and gain a competitive edge at work. He reveals how happiness actually fuels success and performance, not the other way around. Why? Because when we are happier and more positive we are more engaged, creative, resilient to stress, and productive. The Happiness Advantage will appeal to anyone who wants practical advice on how to become happier and also more successful.
1. Success and happiness
- The ruling powers continue to tell us that if we just put our nose to the grindstone and work hard now, we will be successful, and therefore happier, in some distant future.
- As we work towards our goals, happiness is either irrelevant or an easily dispensable luxury or a reward only to be won after a lifetime of toil.
- Some even treat it as a weakness, a sign that we’re not working hard enough.
What is happiness?
- Happiness is the experience of positive emotions; pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose.
- Martin Seligman has broken it down into three measurable components: pleasure, engagement and meaning.
- The happiness advantage is a revolution that shows us that success orbits around happiness and not the other way around.
Everyone is different
- Obviously, there are people for whom this positivity comes more naturally.
- While we each have a happiness baseline that we fluctuate around on a daily basis, with concerted effort, we can raise that baseline permanently so that even when we are going up and down, we are doing so at a higher level.
Here are a number of proven ways we can improve oun meeds and raise our levels of happiness throughout the day:
- Meditate: Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy. Research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.
Anticipation and Kindness
- Find something to look forward to: often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation. Anticipating future rewards can actually light up pleasure centers in your brain as much as the actual reward.
- Commit conscious acts of kindness: giving to friends and strangers alike decreases stress and contributes to enhanced mental health.
Infuse positivity in your surroundings
- People who flank their computers with pictures of loved ones aren’t just decorating, they’re ensuring a hit of positive emotion each time they glance in that direction.
- Studies have shown that the less negative TV we watch, specifically violent media, the happier we are.
- Psychologists have found that people who watch less TV are actually more accurate judges of life risks. These people are less likely to watch sensationalized information, and thus see reality more clearly.
Mastery and health
- Exercise: physical activity releases pleasure inducing chemicals called endorphins, but that’s not the only benefit as the feelings of mastery and motivation have many other rewards.
- Practice a signature strength: each time we use a skill, we experience a burst of positivity.
- Spend money on experiences: especially ones with other people, producing positive emotions that are both more meaningful and more lasting.
2. Changing your mindset
- According to Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, many of the seemingly inviolable laws of the universe become altered based on the observer.
- While we of course can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone, we can use our brain to change how we process the world.
- Brains are like single processors capable of devoting only a finite number of resources to experiencing the world.
- So how exactly is it that our relative perception of what is happening, or what we think will happen, can actually affect what does happen?
- One answer is that the brain is organized to act on what we predict will happen next, something psychologists call “Expectancy Theory“
- Once we realize how much our reality depends on how we view it, it comes as less of a surprise that our external circumstances predict only about 10 percent of our total happiness.
Job, Career or Calling
Employees have one of three work orientations or mindsets about our work. We view our work as a Job, a Career or a Calling.
- Job: work is a chore and their paycheck is the reward. They work because they have to.
- Career: work is not only a necessity but also to advance and succeed. They are invested in their work and want to do it well.
- Calling: work is an end in itself; their work is fulfilling not because of external rewards but because they feel it contributes to the greater good.
“We’re not saving dolphins here”
“To be honest, it has to be about money; we’re not saving dolphins here.”
This executive had unwittingly primed his employees for failure. Here’s what he had effectively said: “Saving the dolphins is meaningful and has a positive effect on the world, while the job you’re in provides no meaning and worth beyond making you a lot of money.”
He reminded everyone that they had jobs, not calls.
3. The Tetris Effect
- Researchers paid 27 people to play Tetris for multiple hours a day, three days in a row.
- For days after the study, some participants literally couldn’t stop dreaming about shapes falling. They become stuck in something rallied a “cognitive afterimage”.
- Playing hour after hour of Tetris actually changes the wiring of the brain. The consistent play was creating new neural pathways.
- You can only follow a pattern that you have been practicing to see.
We are rewarded for being negative
- We are often rewarded for noticing the problems that need solving, the stresses that need managing and the injustices that need righting.
- The problem is that if we get stuck in only that pattern, always looking for and picking up on the negative, even a paradise can become a hell.
- Even worse, the better we get at scanning for the negative, the more we miss out on the positive.
- The good news is that we can also train our brains to scan for the positive.
What we are required to do at work
- Lawyers are 3.6 times more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than the rest of the employed population.
- This might seem a relatively surprising finding given that lawyers have high levels of education, pay and status, but in fact, given what they are required to do all day long, it’s not that surprising at all.
- Athletes can’t stop competing with their friends or families, social workers can’t stop distrusting men, managers can’t stop micromanaging their children’s lives.
- Brains have a filter that only lets the most pertinent information through to our consciousness.
- If we have programmed our brain’s filter to delete the positive, that data will cease to exist for us.
- Imagine a way of looking at the world that constantly picked up on the positives in every situation, focusing on happiness, gratitude and optimism.
- Expecting positive outcomes actually makes them more likely to arise.
A list of positives
- The best way to kickstart this is to start mankind a daily list of the good things in your life.
- Just as it takes days of concentrated practice to master a video game, training your brain to notice more opportunities takes practice focusing on the positive.
- Over a decade of empirical studies have proven the profound effect it has on the way our brains are wired.
- Then you write down a list of three good things that happened that day, your brain will be forced to scan the last 24 hours for positives.
Practice, practice, practice
- As with any skill, the more we practice, the more easily and naturally it comes.
- The best way to ensure follow through on a desired activity is to make it a habit
- The key is to ritualize the task.
- Given the choice between seeing the world through rose tinted glasses or always walking around under a rain cloud, the contest isn’t even close.
- Science has shown that seeking out the positive has too many tangible advantages to be dismissed as mere cockeyed optimism or wishful thinking.
Rose tinted glasses
- As the name implies, rose tinted glasses let the really major problems into our field of vision, while still keeping our focus largely on the positive.
- The ideal mindset isn’t heedless of risk but it does give priority to the good.
- In business and in life, the reasonable optimist will win every time.
4. Learning from our failures
- The brain is constantly creating and revising mental maps to help us navigate our way through this complex and ever-changing world.
- Early failure is often the fuel for the very ideas that eventually transform industries and reinvent careers.
- Psychologists actually recommend that we fail early and often. We can only learn to deal with failure by actually experiencing failure.
- The earlier we face difficulties and drawbacks, the better prepared we are to deal with inevitable obstacles along our path.
Evil dog experiment
- There was an experiment with dogs pairing bell noises with small shocks to see how they would react to the bell alone.
- They created a room divided into two, in which they would be shocked on one side, but on the other side they would be safe from shocks.
- They accidentally taught the dogs to be helpless: earlier the dogs learned that once the bell rang, the shock was sure to follow, so they believed that there was nothing they could do to avoid the shock and they didn’t even try to switch rooms.
Counter facts and helplessness
- When life delivers us a shock, we can become so hopeless that we respond simply by giving up. Helplessness is a belief in the futility of our actions.
- A counter fact is an alternate scenario our brains create to help us evaluate and make sense of what really happened.
- We have the power in any given situation to consciously select the counter fact that makes us feel fortunate rather than helpless.
- The idea that things are never as bad as they seem is actually a fact based on our biology.
- An explanatory style means how we choose to explain the nature of past events.
- People with an optimistic explanatory style see these events as being local and temporary.
- Those with a pessimistic explanatory style see these events as more global and permanent.
- Decades of study have shown that explanatory style has a crucial impact on our happiness and future success.
- Some people already have an optimistic explanatory style.
5. The Zorro circle
- Limiting your focus to small and manageable goals can expand your sphere of power.
- One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters; that we have control over our future.
- By first limiting the scope of our efforts, then watching those efforts have the intended effect, we accumulate the resources, knowledge and confidence to expand the circle, gradually conquering a larger and larger area.
- When we see hard work pay off, our belief in ourselves grows stronger.
- Write your stresses, daily challenges and goals, then separate them into two categories: things that you have control over and things you don’t.
- Identify one small goal you know you can quickly accomplish.
- Concentrate your efforts on small areas where you know you can make a difference.
- With an increasingly internal locus of control and a greater confidence in our abilities, we can then expand our efforts outward.
- You can’t sprint your way to a marathon.
- Unwillingness to start with small circles and take too much at once nearly guarantees failure and we don’t feel good about it.
- In today’s results obsessed workplace, it’s no wonder we’re impatient and overly ambitious.
- No matter what you may have heard from motivational speakers, coaches and the like, reaching for the stars is a recipe for failure.
- It’s important to push the limits of possibility, just not all at once.
- When you are stressed and afraid to do a job, not only do you want to avoid it but you may feel so overwhelmed by the situation you don’t feel like doing any work at all.
- When the challenges we face are particularly challenging and the payoff remains far away, setting smaller, more manageable goals helps us build our confidence and celebrate our forward progress, and keeps us committed to the task at hand.
- Each tiny fix can add up to over a million tiny fixes each year.
Without a time limit, even small tasks can quickly escalate back into an overwhelming challenge with no end in sight.
6. The 20 second rule
- Turn bad habits into good ones by minimizing barriers to change.
- Habits form because our brain actually changes in response to frequent practice.
- Common wisdom has long proposed that it takes 21 days to make a habit.
- It’s not the number of distractions that get us into trouble, it’s the ease of access to them.
- Technology may make it easier for us to save time, but it also makes it a whole easier for us to waste it.
- What if I could eliminate the amount of activation energy to get started?
Common sense is not common action
- In life, knowledge is only part of the battle. Without action, knowledge is often meaningless.
- We all know that we should exercise, sleep eight hours and be kind to others, but does this common knowledge make doing this things any easier?
- Thats why even though doctors know better than anyone the importance of exercise and diet, 44 percent of them are overweight.
- Positive habits are hard to keep, no matter how commonsensical they may be.
We are mere bundles of habits
- Humans are biologically prone to habit, and it is because we are “mere bundles of habits” that we are able to automatically perform many of our daily tasks.
- It is precisely because we are so automatic that we rarely stop to think about the enormous role they play in shaping our behavior and in fact, our lives.
- You did not have to remind yourself all day to keep your clothes on. It was not a struggle. It didn’t deplete your reserves of energy or brainpower. It was second nature, automatic, a habit.
Willpower is not the way
- Any dietician will tell you that relying on willpower to completely avoid unhealthy food nearly guarantees relapse.
- We think we can go from 0 to 60 in an instant, changing or overturning ingrained life habits through the sheer force of will.
- The reason willpower is so ineffective at sustaining change is that the more we use it, the more worn out it gets.
- We follow the paths of least resistance and that path inevitably leads us to the couch or television.
The path of least resistance
- The more often we succumb to this path, the more difficult it becomes to change directions.
- We are drowned powerfully, magnetically, to those things that are easy, convenient and habitual and it’s incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia.
- This is why magazines send us a free subscription and then automatically start deducting money from our account.
- The average American watches tv 7 hours a day.
Change your default
- Default options are everywhere, shaping our choices and our behavior in all areas of our lives.
- Active leisure like hobbies, games and sports enhance our concentration, engagement and sense of enjoyment.
- Exercise in the morning raises your performance on cognitive tasks and gives your brain a “win” to start a cascade effect of positive emotions.
- Limiting the choices, we have to make can also help lower the barrier to positive change.
- Setting rules in advance can free us from constant choices.
Creating a habit is a ritual
- The book is full of ways we can capitalize on the happiness advantage, but without actually putting those strategies into action, they remain useless.
- The key to creating habits is ritual, repeated practice, until the actions become ingrained into your brain’s neural chemistry.
- We need to eliminate the activation energy on the things we want to adopt and get the things we want to avoid more difficult.
7. Social support is your greatest asset
- We don’t have to go to the brink of a collapsing economy to understand how easy it is to retreat into our own shells at the moment we need to be reaching out to others the most.
- As for time with family and friends, well, these things are the first to go when we’re in crisis mode.
- We have 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter.
- When we have a community of people we can count on, we multiply our emotional and intellectual resources.
Social support and success
- Social support was a far greater predictor of happiness than any other factor, more than GPA, income, SAT scores, age, gender or race.
- Surrounded by people, big challenges feel more manageable and small challenges don’t even register on the radar.
- Our social support prevents stress from knocking us down and getting in the way of achieving our goals.
- This truth is sometimes difficult for many of us to accept, given how deep the ethic of individualism runs in our culture.
- The people who actively invest in their relationships are the heart and soul of a thriving organization, the force that drives their teams forward; in sports, these people are called “glue guys”.
- It’s important that we work on being present, both physically and mentally. That means when someone walks into your office to talk, don’t stare at your computer screen.
- Not only do we need to invest in new relationships, we should always be reinvesting in our current relationships because, like our stocks, social support networks grow stronger the longer they are held.
- Research suggests that how we support people during good times, more than bad times, affects the quality of the relationship.
Listening and responses
- There are different types of responses we can give to someone’s good news, and only one of them contributes positively.
- The winning response is both active and constructive; it offers enthusiastic support, as well as specific comments and follow-up questions.
- That’s wonderful! I’m glad your boss noticed how hard you’ve been working. When will your promotion go into effect?
- Forging a connection requires active listening, giving someone your full attention and also allowing them to have a say.
- No matter where I am in the world, most people think this research is useful for them, but even more useful for all the people around them.
- The person we have the greatest power to change is ourselves.
- This process starts with your brain. Your thoughts and actions are constantly shaping and reshaping the neural pathways in the brain.
- Our attitudes and behaviors don’t only affect the people we interact with directly, they actually appear to extend to people within three degrees of separation.
Like second hand smoke, the leakage of emotions can make a bystander an innocent casualty of someone else’s toxic state —DANIEL GOLEMAN
Spread the word
- Sit around an unsmiling or anxious boss for too long, and you too will start to feel sad or stressed, regardless of how you felt originally.
- The happier everyone is around you, the happier you will become. This is why we laugh more at a funny movie when we’re in a theater full on laughing people, and similarly why television sitcoms one a laugh track.
- Smiling tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy.
- One way to build rapport and therefore extend this influence, is with eye contact.
From the book:-
The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor