Positivity researcher Shawn Achor’s introduction to happiness and how to build it has earned a place in the canon of positivity literature. Get happy – and improve your health, relationships and career – with Achor’s seven research-based strategies.
Shawn Achor has made happiness his life’s work. As CEO of GoodThink Inc., Achor researches positive outliers – people who perform well above average – to understand the intersections of potential, success and happiness. Organizations apply the findings to create more-positive and more-productive workplaces. According to Achor, his Happiness Advantage training has become one of the largest and most successful positive psychology corporate training programs in the world.
Happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity and energy. Shawn Achor
First published in 2010, Achor’s book came amid a flood of new research into positivity and flourishing that emerged in the 2000s and the early 2010s. Psychologist Martin Seligman, the dean of positive thinking, introduced core concepts and offered a set of strength-based tools for building happiness in his 2002 book, Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realize Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. Barbara Fredrickson’s Positivity: Groundbreaking Research Reveals How to Embrace the Hidden Strength of Positive Emotions, Overcome Negativity, and Thrive followed in 2009, expanding the concept of happiness to a more embracing notion of positivity.
From Happiness to Flourishing
In 2011, Seligman brought recent research to bear in Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-Being, where he proposed a comprehensive new model in which well-being and happiness feature as a central component of and support for flourishing.
In this context, Achor’s book represents a valuable contribution to the literature on positivity, offering readers a convincing case – and reliable tools – for prioritizing happiness. Achor’s research garnered the cover of Harvard Business Review in 2012, and his TED Talk, “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” ranks among the all-time most popular, with more than 24 million views.
Develop a Happiness Mind-Set
Achor argues for a revolutionary view of happiness that business leaders have increasingly accepted as common wisdom: Happiness isn’t a reward that people pursue and then enjoy as a fruit of success, but a state of mind that a person can choose to develop – which then offers decided advantages to individuals and organizations.
Happiness is not just a mood – it’s a work ethic.Shawn Achor
The Happiness Advantage begins by outlining Achor’s foundational research and the benefits that people can gain from adopting a positive mind-set. In the bulk of the book, Achor details his research-based strategies for boosting personal happiness and the gains people make from implementing them.
Seven Practices to Increase Happiness
Achor identifies seven principles of positive psychology and recommends actions that can help you improve your happiness and, in turn, your performance, health and relationships. These happiness-building processes can work independently, but you’ll enjoy synergies, Achor says, when you put more than one into practice:
- Happiness begets success – Conventional belief holds that success leads to happiness, but research shows happiness to be a precursor, not a consequence, of achievement. Happy workers excel in productivity, leadership skills and performance ratings. They’re less likely to use sick days, burn out or leave the company. Happiness boosts physical health, including immune system function. To put this principle to work, Achor counsels, take every opportunity to prime yourself for happiness. Think about things you enjoy, practice acts of kindness, and engage in other activities that lift your spirits. When you do, you boost your mind-set and leverage the “happiness advantage.”
- A positive mind-set can work wonders – Levels of happiness vary among individuals – and you can improve yours. Your mind-set acts like a fulcrum for your attitude and worldview: By shifting your mind-set to a more positive one, you can gain emotional strength. Achor offers an array of tactics to buoy your mind-set, such as starting a daily five-minute meditation practice, keeping photos of loved ones in view, and finding meaning in your work.
- You can train your brain to perceive positives – Achor calls this the “Tetris Effect”: the brain’s propensity to see what you train it to focus on. Achor advises conditioning your mind to perceive positives in the world. For example, every day, list three good things that happened in the previous 24 hours. Your brain will learn to look for them. This doesn’t mean ignoring problems, but focusing on the good things on a regular basis.
- You can turn setbacks into opportunities by reframing them – Achor recommends “falling up” – finding positive possibilities in what appear to be negative situations. By seeing crisis as a catalyst, you can motivate and energize yourself, overcoming any sense of helplessness and avoiding paralysis.
- To outwit overwhelm, narrow your tasks down to a manageable level – Achor calls this the “Zorro Circle” strategy: Start with a task that you can easily master, like the small circle where Zorro began his training as a swordsman. By accomplishing this task, you’ll establish a sense of control and confidence in your abilities that will enable you to take on larger challenges.
- Don’t depend on willpower to change your habits – Achor cites research showing willpower takes energy – and that people have limited amounts of it to expend. So instead of exhausting yourself by exerting willpower to make a change, leverage the human propensity to conserve energy by rearranging your environment. Achor calls this the “20-Second Rule.” The idea is to add 20 seconds of effort to an activity you want to reduce – for example, to reduce your TV time, take the batteries out of the remote and put them in the next room. On the other hand, shave 20 seconds of effort off an activity you want to promote – for example, if you want to practice guitar, leave the instrument out next to the sofa.
- Invest in your social networks – The happiest people have strong social networks, research shows. And social interactions, even small ones, can reduce your stress level. Whether you have a strong or weak social network can affect your life span as much as smoking, high blood pressure or exercise. And during a crisis, turn to social support – don’t withdraw. People tend to isolate themselves during tough times, but pulling together will strengthen your resilience.
Achor writes with intelligence and welcome directness. His relentlessly encouraging advice, delivered with a certain gee-whiz quality, never feels irritating or Pollyannaish, thanks to its grounding in sound science and vivid anecdotes. Achor’s deep research, clean prose – peppered with roll-your-eyes humor – and pragmatic advice explain why The Happiness Advantage remains a valuable resource more than a decade after its publication.