The Happiness Advantage — by Shawn Achor



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Fantastic read on the benefits of positivity. Provides actionable information on how to increase positivity in your life and the wide-ranging long-term impact of leading a happier life.

Recommendation: 5/5

My Highlights

Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now know that happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement—giving us the competitive edge that I call the Happiness Advantage.

Waiting to be happy limits our brain's potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes u more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drive performance upward.

John Milton wrote in Paradise Lost, "The Mind is its own place, and in itself can make a heaven of hell, a hell of heaven."

If we study merely what is average, we will remain merely average.

Countless studies have found that social relationships are the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress, both an antidote for depression and a prescription for high performance.

We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.

Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent.

It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.


The Happiness Advantage—Because positive brains have a biological advantage over brains that are neutral or negative, this principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance.

The Fulcrum and the Lever—How we experience the world, and our ability to succeed within it, constantly changes based on our mindset. This principle teaches us how we can adjust our mindset (our fulcrum) in a way that gives us the power (the lever) to be more fulfilled and successful.

The Tetris Effect—When our brains get stuck in a pattern that focuses on stress, negativity, and failure, we set ourselves up to fail. This principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility, so we can see—and seize—opportunity wherever we look.

Failing Up—In the midst of defeat, stress, and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope. This principle is about finding 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.

The Zorro Circle—When challenges loom and we get overwhelmed, our rational brains can get hijacked by emotions. This principle teaches us how to regain control by focusing first on small, manageable goals, and then gradually expanding our circle to achieve bigger and bigger ones.

The 20-Second Rule—Sustaining lasting change often feels impossible because our willpower is limited. And when willpower fails, we fall back on our old habits and succumb to the path of least resistance. This principle shows how, by making small energy adjustments, we can reroute the path of least resistance and replace bad habits with good ones.

Social Investment—In the midst of challenges and stress, some people choose to hunker down and retreat within themselves. But the most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward. This principle teaches us how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence—our social support network.

...happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity, and energy.

Happiness is not the belief that we don't need to change; it is the realization that we can.

Psychologists have long known that negative emotions narrow our thoughts and range of actions, which has served an important evolutionary purpose.

Extensive research has found that happiness actually has a very important evolutionary purpose, something Barbara Fredrickson has termed the "Broaden and Build Theory." Instead of narrowing our actions dow to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive ones broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas. For instance, individuals who are "primed"—meaning scientist help evoke a certain mindset or emotion before doing an experiment—to feel either amusement or contentment can think of a larger and wider array of thoughts and ideas than individuals who have been primed to feel either anxiety or anger. And when positive emotions broaden our scope of cognition and behavior in this way, they not only make us more creative, they help us build more intellectual, social, and physical resources we can rely upon in the future.

Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.

People who put their heads down and wait for work to bring eventual happiness put themselves at a huge disadvantage, while those who capitalize on positivity every chance they get come out ahead.

...positive emotions also provide a swift antidote to physical stress and anxiety, what psychologist call "the undoing effect."

...a quick burst of positive emotions doesn't just broaden our cognitive capacity; it also provides a quick and powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our focus and our ability to function at our best level.

Meditate. Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy.

Studies show that in the minutes right after meditating, we experience feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy. And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.

Find Something to Look Forward To. One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. Often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation.

Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness. A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has show that acts of altruism—giving to friends and strangers alike—decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.

...individuals told to complete five acts of kindess over the course of a day report feeling much happier than control groups and that feeling lasts for many subsequent days far after the exercise is over.

Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings.

...our physical  environment can have an enormous impact on our mindset and sense of well-being. While we may not always have complete control over our surrounding, we can make specific efforts to infuse them with positivity.

Making time to go outside on a nice day also delivers a huge advantage; one study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood, but broadened thinking and improved working memory.

...studies have shown that the less negative TV we watch, specifically violent media, the happier we are. This doesn't mean shutting ourselves off from the real world or ignoring problems. Psychologists have found that people who watch less TV are actually more accurate judges of life's risks and rewards than those who subject themselves to the tales of crime, tragedy, and death that appear night after night on the ten o'clock news. That's because these people are less likely to see sensationalized or one-sided sources of information, and thus see reality more clearly.

Exercise. Physical activity can boost mood and enhance our work performance in a number of other ways as well, by improving motivation and feelings of mastery, reducing stress and anxiety, and helping us get into flow—that "locked in" feeling of total engagement that we usually get when we're at our most productive.

...exercise proved just as helpful as anti-depressants...

Spend Money (but Not on Stuff). Contrary to popular saying, money can buy happiness, but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things.

Spending money on other people, called "prosocial spending," also boosts happiness.

Exercise a Signature Strength. Everyone is good at something...Each time we use a skill, whatever it is, we experience a burst of positivity. If you find yourself in need of a happiness booster, revisit a talent you haven't used in a while.

Even more fulfilling than using a skill, though, is exercising a strength of character, a trait that is deeply embedded in who we are are.

Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset

Because our brain's resources are limited, we are left with a choice: to use those finite resources to see only pain, negativity, stress, and uncertainty, or to use those resources to look at things through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism, and meaning. In other words, 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, and that in turn changes how we react to it. Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances.

Our power to maximize our potential is based on two important things: (1) the length of our lever—how much potential power and possibility we believe we have, and (2) the position of our fulcrum—the mindset with which we generate the power of change.

The more we move our fulcrum (or mindset), the more our lever lengthens and so the more power we generate. Move the fulcrum so that all the advantage goes to a negative mindset, and we never rise off the ground. Move the fulcrum to a positive mindset, and the lever's power is magnified—ready to move everything up. changing the fulcrum of our mindset and lengthening our lever of possibility, we change what is possible. It's not the weight of the world that determines what we can accomplish. It is our fulcrum and lever.

...psychology has shown that mindset doesn't just change how e feel about an experience—it actually changes the objective results of that experience.

...the brain is organized to act on what we predict will happen next, something psychologists call "Expectancy Theory."

...our expectations create brain patterns that can be just as real as those created by events in the real world. In other words, the expectation of an event causes the same complex set of neurons to fire as though the event were actually taking place, triggering a cascade of events in the nervous system that leads to a whole host of real physical consequences.

The mental construction of our daily activities, more than the activity itself defines our reality.

When we reconnect ourselves with the pleasure of the "means," as opposed to only focusing on the "ends," we adopt a mindset more conducive not only to enjoyment, but to better results.

If our mindset conceives of free time, hobby time, or family time as non-productive, then we will, in fact, make it a waste of time.

Just as your mindset about work affects your performance, so too does you mindset about your own ability. What I mean is that the more you believe in your own ability succeed, the more likely it is that you will

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

...when faced with a difficult task or challenge, give yourself an immediate competitive advantage by focusing on all the reasons you will succeed, rather than fail. Remind yourself of the relevant skills you have, rather than those you lack. Think of a time you have been in a similar circumstance in the past and performed well. Years of research have shown that a specific and concerted focus on your strengths during a difficult task produces the best results.

More important still than believing in your own abilities is believing that you can improve these abilities.

...whether or not someone believes their intelligence is changeable directly affects their achievement.

...people can be split into two categories: Those with a "fixed mindset" believe that their capabilities are already set, while those with a "growth mindset" believe that they can enhance their basic qualities through effort.

When we believe there will be a positive payoff for our effort, we work harder instead of succumbing to helplessness.

When our brains constantly scan for and focus on the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude, and optimism. The role happiness plays should be obvious—the more you pick up on the positive around you the better you'll feel...

...because the more opportunities for positivity we see, the more grateful we become.

...consistently grateful people are more energetic, emotionally intelligent, forgiving, and less likely to be depressed, anxious, or lonely. And it's not only that people are only grateful because they are happier, either; gratitude has proven to be a significant cause of positive outcomes. When researchers pick random volunteers and train them to be more grateful over a period of a few week, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially connected, enjoy better quality sleep, and even experience fewer headaches than control groups.

...the more your brain picks up on the positive, the more you'll expect this trend to continue, and so the more optimistic you'll be. And optimism, it turns out, is a tremendously powerful predictor of work performance. Studies have show that optimists set more goals (and more difficult goals) than pessimists, and put more effort into attaining those goals, stay more engaged in the face of difficult, and rise above obstacles more easily. Optimists also cope better in high stress situations and are better able to maintain high levels of well-being during times of hardship—all skills that are crucial to high performance in a demanding work environment.

When someone is stuck in a Negative Tetris Effect, his brain is quite literally incapable of seeing these opportunities. But armed with positivity, the brain stays open to possibility. Psychologists call this "predictive encoding": Priming yourself to expect a favorable outcome actually encodes your brain to recognize the outcome when it does in fact arise.

One study found that participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups...Even after stopping the exercise, they remained significantly happier and showed higher levels of optimism. The better they got at scanning the world for good things to write down, the more good things they saw, without even trying, wherever they looked.

...if we are able to conceive of a failure as an opportunity for growth, we are all the more likely to experience that growth.

..."we are not imprisoned by our circumstances, our setbacks, our history, our mistakes, or even staggering defeats along the way. We are freed by our choices."

By scanning our mental map for positive opportunities, and by rejecting the belief that every down in life leads us only further downward, we give ourselves the greatest power possible: the ability to move up no despite the setbacks, but because of them.

People's ability to find the path up rests largely on how they conceive of the cards they have dealt, so the strategies that most often lead to Adversarial Growth include positive reinterpretation of the situation or even, optimism, acceptance, and coping mechanisms that include focusing on the problem head-on (rather than trying to avoid or deny it). As one set of researchers explains, "it appears that it is not the type of event per se that influences post-traumatic growth, but rather the subjective experience of the event." In other words, the people who define themselves not by what has happened to them, but by what they can make out of what has happened. These are the people who actually use adversity to find the path forward. They speak not just of "bouncing back," but of "bouncing forward."

..."things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen."

The most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block, but as a stepping-stone to greatness. Indeed, early failure is often the fuel for the very ideas that eventually transform industries, make record profits, and reinvent careers.

Robert F. Kennedy said much the same: "Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly."

...when we eliminate any upward options from our mental maps, and worse, eliminate our motivation to search for them, we end up undermining our ability to tackle the challenge at hand.

When people don't believe there is a way up, they have virtually no choice but to stay as down as they are.'s not the adversity itself, but what we do with it that determines our fate.

...we actually have the power in any given situation to consciously select a counterfact that makes us feel fortunate rather than helpless. And choosing a positive counterfact, besides simply making us feel better, sets ourselves up for the whole host of benefits to motivation and performance we now know accompanies a positive mindset.‌


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