"Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result…happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement."
I must admit that my introduction to Shawn Achor was from his now-famous TED Talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work.
It was from viewing his speech that I realized I needed to learn more about his research findings, so that I, too, could raise my happiness level – not just on a moment-by-moment basis but in a way that’s more enduring. What surprised me was that his writing clearly reflects his personality and enthusiasm for his subject of study, bringing the research to life and making this book an enchanting read.
But in addition to providing personal tips for raising my own happiness baseline, I learned ways that my business and my company could benefit from increased happiness. In ways both tangible and intangible. Individuals and businesses showed remarkable improvements in personal success by instituting Achor’s practices. The main takeaway, of course, is that increasing happiness increases success rather than vice versa.
The Big Idea
Change is Possible
"It’s more than a little comforting to know that people can become happier, that pessimists can become optimists, and that stressed and negative brains can be trained to see more possibility."
Advances in the field of neuroplasticity show that the human brain has enormous growth potential. We don’t know the limits, but we do know that science has proven that brains can and do change and grow, that there are numerous ways we can rewire our brains, and that adopting the habits that improve our mindset have proven, long-lasting effects.
Of course, this knowledge doesn’t guarantee the results described. It takes practice. Fortunately for us, Achor provides proven ways that we can practice happiness – thereby changing our brains AND our lives.
Happiness Gives Your Brain the Competitive Edge
"When we are happy – when our mindsets and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it."
It can be difficult to define happiness. Positivity, positive emotions, human flourishing, all can be used to describe the phenomenon and emotional state of happiness. In an analysis of more than 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people, researchers consistently found that “happiness leads to success in every domain of our lives.”
Imagine that successful life – a happy marriage, good health, strong friendships, creativity, and success in business. The success of everything we commit ourselves to hinges on those positive emotions. And it’s not just personal. Businesses and organizations whose people practice happiness habits find higher performance, more motivation, and a more enjoyable work environment. Happiness affects everything we do.
"Each activity listed below not only gives us a quick boost of positive emotions, improving our performance and focus in the moment; but if performed habitually over time, each has been shown to help permanently raise our happiness baseline."
I started practicing a few of these habits earlier in the year and found that just remaining cognizant of the fact that I could in the moment improve my positivity has been a boon to my life and mental health. So, Achor’s elaboration on these habits, and what they might look like for each of us gave me even more tools to support my daily happiness and to reset my happiness baseline. The habits are:
1. Meditate – Regular meditation, even just five minutes a day, permanently rewires our brains to “raise our levels of happiness, lower stress, and improve immune function.” Happier and healthier!
2. Find Something to Look Forward to – Anticipating future rewards lights up the pleasure centers of our brains in the same ways that the actual reward does. Think about chocolate. Mmmm.
3. Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness – “Acts of altruism decrease stress and contribute to enhanced mental health.” To get the most cognitive benefit, acts of kindness should be deliberate and conscious. Pick a day and commit to five acts of kindness. Buy coffee for the person behind you in the drive through. Send an encouraging email.
4. Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings – Make your place of work a positive space, take a break mid-day, avoid negative emotions. Even just “spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boost[s] positive mood, but broaden[s] thinking and improve[s] working memory.”
5. Exercise – This one sounds simple, but is sadly, often the first thing we sacrifice when our lives become stressful. But research shows that exercise releases endorphins and improves our mood – and it’s not just a short-term effect. 45 minutes of activity three times per week resulted in a significant improvement in mental health for depressed patients for more than six months.
6. Spend Money (but Not on Stuff) – Research shows that spending money on experiences and activities rather than on material purchases makes us happier in the moment and over time. Go to a concert, bring donuts to the office, send flowers to your spouse.
7. Exercise a Signature Strength – When we do the things that we are good at and that are tied to our character traits, we reap lasting benefits and again, increase our baseline happiness level. This is more than just “pursuing your passion.” It’s the daily practice of the very strengths that make you you. If you’re unsure, take this free survey to find out: www.viasurvey.org.
I’ll be the first to admit that my natural happiness baseline is neutral or slightly negative. But by incorporating many of these habits into my daily life, I can report a noticeable increase in my positivity. And people – friends, colleagues, and family – have noticed.
For me, exercise, experiences, and practicing my strengths have made the most impact in my attitude. And as I’ve started to pay more attention to my happiness levels, I can correlate lowered happiness with neglect of the very practices that empower me. I’d say it’s working, and I encourage you to try it, too.
What about you? Do you have a happiness baseline? Do you already practice any of the habits mentioned? What has been the result? If you’re not practicing any of these habits, is there something else that works for you? And if you’re not practicing these habits, which ones most appeal to you?