10. The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor)

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“Studies show that simply believing we an bring about positive change in our lives increases motivation and job performance, that success, in essence, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Shawn Achor, Harvard professor, shares that success does not lead to happiness but that happiness leads to success.   He uses many examples from both his personal and professional life which make his suggestions attainable to readers.  Achor outlines his seven principles leading to the happiness advantage which are described below:

  1. The Happiness Advantage – He shares how our brains “capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance” and how the “broadening effect” (which relates to happiness triggering dopamine and serotonin in the brain) makes us feel good, helps us organize, retain and retrieve, think quickly and creatively and be innovative and creative.     He posits that happiness is a “powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our focus and ability to function”.  Stressing the positive, hearing encouraging words, smiling and thinking about your best strengths can provide a boost of positive emotions and improve performance and function. The author suggests the following happiness boosters:
    • Meditation – We all need to take more time for ourselves and he suggests taking just 5 minutes a day to meditate, focusing on your breathing can increase happiness and lower stress.
    • Finding Something Positive to Look Forward to – We all remember the excitement of waiting for our birthday or a special event as a child. Achor talks about how anticipation can create happiness almost as much as the event itself. Start thinking about that event, vacation or time with friends!
    • Committing Conscious Acts of Kindness – Random Acts of Kindness have been in the news with good reason. It can change a person’s mindset and improve their day when someone does something kind like pay for the coffee for the car behind you.
    • Infusing Positivity into Your Surroundings – spend time outside, just sitting in the sunshine or going for a quick walk can improve your mindset.
    • Exercise – something many of us should make more time for!
    • Spend Money (not on stuff) – He suggests spending money on activities, which can bring more pleasure than material items. This reinforces my decision to give my kids the experience of camp for birthday and Christmas gifts. Not only do they have something positive to look forward to but they have a wonderful experience, meet other kids and can benefit from the experience long after the two weeks are over.
    • Exercise a Signature Strength – everyone is good at something! Try the following survey: viasurvey.org to find your signature strengths – not surprisingly one of mine is a love of learning, which I can take advantage of by reading a great book and writing this blog.
    • The best leaders use the Happiness Advantage to motivate teams and create positive environments.
  1. The Fulcrum and the Lever – This chapter deals with mindset, how we experience the world is dependent on mindset – he states “while we can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone, we can use our brain to change how we process the world, and that in turn changes how we react to it”. For activities you are not looking forward to, he suggests creating a goal such as learning three new things or learning from a speaker to help your brain think more positively about the task. He draws on the work of Carol Dweck in her book Mindset. He shares what a difference leaders can make when they express faith in employees, choose positive words and “prime employees for excellence”.
  2. The Tetris Effect – I laughed when I saw the title of this chapter recalling hours spent paying Tetris and going to bed seeing the shapes float down like the author describes. The game was addictive! This section talks about spotting patterns and possibilities and that individuals who look for negatives miss out on the positive items that can increase happiness and lead to success. It is important to train your brain to scan for opportunities and ideas that can grow our success and key tools are happiness, gratitude and optimism which can help attain goals, face difficulties and cope in stressful situations. “Expecting positive outcomes actually makes them more likely to arise”. At dinnertime, our family talks about the 3 best things that happened in our days. This not only helps keep focus on what is positive but it gives everyone a chance to share with each other.
  3. Falling Up – Everyone is going to fail at times, but it is how we deal with this challenge, whether we can find the “mental path that not only leads us up out of failure or suffering, but teaches us to be happier and more successful because of it”. It is about resilience and recognizing that there is a path up, away from the setback, which can lead to growth, opportunity and powerful lessons by capitalizing on strengths, reevaluating goals and turning challenges into an opportunities.
  4. The Zorro Circle – This chapter uses the example of Zorro by teaching the reader to gain control by focusing on small, manageable goals before expanding to larger challenges. He speaks about the internal locus of control, which is a belief that individuals have a direct effect on their success, looking for what could be done better, improving and believing in ourselves rather than thinking that others have all the control. He talks about writing a list of challenges and identifying what you have control over and what you don’t which you need to let go of and focus on what you can change.
  5. The 20-second Rule – This section discusses willpower and ways to create a path of least resistance to replace bad habits with positive choices since we are drawn to things that are “easy, convenient, an habitual”.   He describes how email and distraction creates loss of concentration and procrastination in the workplace and suggests. He suggests making your bad habits harder (having healthy snacks ready for example or, as the author did, sleeping in his gym clothes so he had no excuses not to work out).
  6. Social Investment – The author discusses how important social capital is to dealing with stress and how relationships matter more than anything else to thrive, bounce back from setbacks and be successful.   He notes that the “people who actively invest in their relationships are the hear and should of a thriving organization” and talks about the importance of making team members feel cared for.  He suggests eye contact, asking interested questions, face-to-face conversations that are not always work focused, sharing upbeat news and learning new facts about colleagues each day.

After describing the seven principles he talks about the ripple effect. As individuals, we have the greatest power to change ourselves and once we share a positive mindset, the happiness ripples out impacting the lives of others. He talks about happiness as a contagion, infecting others and improving lives of those around us. The simple act of smiling is contagious much like yawning.  This book is inspiring and gives the reader easy suggestions to make small changes that make a difference.

“Small successes can add up to major achievements”

TedTalk by Shawn Achor

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This entry was posted in Health and Well-being, Leadership, Non-Fiction and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to 10. The Happiness Advantage (Shawn Achor)

  1. Pingback: 37. The Happiness Equation (Neil Pasricha) | A Year of Books

  2. Pingback: The Happiness Equation (Neil Pasricha) | LeaderLibrary

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