I'm currently re-reading The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.
It's a great book for thinking about happiness first, not as an outcome that we get later on after we're successful or rich or whatever.
In fact, according to the book, you stand a better chance of reaching those goals if you focus on being happiness first.
Happiness is a precursor to success, not the other way around.
The author has identified 7 principles that he believes will help you to be more happy. Here is a quick summary:
- The Happiness Effect - As mentioned above, happiness drives success, and not the other way around. But why is that true? It's true because happy people have greater ability to think creatively and process options. This is an evolutionary adaptation - as stress narrows are ability to fight, flight, or freeze - happiness opens us to the great variety of options that are available. In addition to discussing the theoretical underpinnings, this chapter offers a number of ways to give yourself the happiness advantage. These are tips and tricks to help lift your mood and make you more open to possibilities and success, as well as providing an antidote to stress. There are also tips for leaders on how to infuse your workplace with happiness.
- The Fulcrum and the Lever - By changing how we view the world, we change how we react to it. By having a more positive outlook, we will react with greater positivity, freeing us from negative reactions. By doing this we can have a much greater impact on the world around us. At first blush, this feels like a restatement or explanation of number 1, but it is ultimately more than that. While tips and tricks to add happiness help, and being happier can help us be more successful, point 2 is deeper. This is about a positive mindset as a fundamental alteration of ourselves, creating even greater possibilities. The author says it best:
Simply put, by changing the fulcrum of our mindset and lengthing the lever of possibility, we change is what is possible. It's not the weight of the world that determines what we can accomplish. It is our fulcrum and our lever.
- The Tetris Effect - The more time that we spend engaged in an activity the more our brain becomes wired to perform that activity. Tax accountants spend their days searching for errors in tax forms. As a result they become wired to search for errors in everything they do. Conversely, the more time we spend engaged in scanning for the positive, we gain access to three very important tools: happiness, gratitude, and optimism. Happiness we've already discussed. Gratitude is a reproducer of happiness in the now: the more we see things to be grateful for, the more grateful we become, the more we see things to be grateful for, etc. Optimism does the same for the future: the more we focus on happiness, the more we expect that trend to continue in the future.
- Falling Up - When we fail or suffer setbacks, falling down or staying in place are not the only option. For many people, failures and setbacks (and even trauma) can produce changes that allow you to not simply stay where you are, but take even bigger steps forward. This is the idea of falling up. Become better because of the setbacks in your life. Use your failures and losses, as learning experiences. See where those silver linings can take you. The author provides several techniques for how to think about these situations and gather positive momentum from them.
- The Zorro Circle - limiting yourself to small, narrow goals helps you stay in control and expand your ability to stay focused and not given to negative thoughts and helplessness. You may be familiar with this (if you have ever read The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey) as Circle of Influence and Circle of Concern. It was a great principle then, and it still works now. This book provides some interesting additional scientific information about how this works in our brains and bodies, and it provides insightful tactics to to build up our circles of influence (or control) to make us more resilient.
- The 20 Second Rule - by reducing small barriers to change, we make it easier to develop new, healthy habits. It can be difficult to make changes to improve our health or well-being. Willpower alone is quite fallible and gets worn down the more we are asked to use it. By the end of a long day it can be difficult to work up the necessary grit to go to the gym. We can make this easier on ourselves by simply removing the small obstacles that unnecessarily sap our self-control energy - remove bookmarks to distracting sites, keep your boots at the ready so you still go outside in the winter, put that book you're meaning to read on the coffee table where it is easy to get you, or hide the remote control so that it is hard to turn on the TV.
- Social Investment - Building and maintaining social connections has important ramifications for our ability to handle stress and face challenging situations. When we have strong social connections we are more resilient and less likely to think of situations as stressful in the first place. Even brief encounters can be benefiical - a short encounter can still be high quality, resetting our respiratory system and reducing levels of cortisol (a stress hormone) in our bodies. Rewards for positive social interactions are very much wired into our brains. So here is one more reason (if you needed one) to maintain your social connections and build up your work and personal networks.
The last part of the book focuses on the ways that using the 7 principles can help us to spread the benefits at work, at home, and everywhere else in the world.
In addition to the overview information I've shared, the book has lots of detail on how things work as well as how to put it into action.
I'm personally a lot more interested in putting things in action, and don't usually have to be sold on the fact that it works, but it is there if you need it.
The individual steps and processes are easily worth the price of the book. After all, if even one of these makes a difference for you - whether in your personal happiness or your career satisfaction - what was that worth?
I work for Exadel, Inc. Exadel is a great company, with great people all around the world. I currently lead the Boulder, CO, USA office.