How to Be Happy: The Happiness Advantage

HappyI recently finished reading a book by Shawn Achor called The Happiness Advantage, essentially a “greatest hits” of positive psychology. It’s filled with great tips to help generate a positive mindset. Here’s the consistent message of the book: our formula for happiness is backwards. Success doesn’t precede happiness, it follows it. In other words, if you’re able to create and maintain a good frame of mind you’re more likely to produce successful outcomes.

Now this isn’t a self-help/the world is yours/the power of intention kind of thing. It’s a maxim that’s based on clear data rather than wishful thinking. Several studies have utilized priming (an effort to get people to think about certain topics such as happiness) to examine the consequences of good mood on performance tasks. Here’s a selection from the book to get you thinking:

Studies have found that, across the board, in both academic and business settings, these same benefits [of priming positive thoughts] persist throughout our adult lives. For instance, students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers. And people who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were more neutral or negative. The implications of these studies are undeniable: 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.

Is it really possible? Can happiness be a choice? Can it lead to more positive outcomes? Yes. There’s much we can do to help ourselves. Achor discussed “Conscious Acts of Kindness” rather than random acts of kindness. Intentionality matters – we can actually plan to implement strategies such as helping one person a day, offering one compliment per day to a co-worker, or ensuring that we start dinner conversation with our loved ones with a recounting of the day’s successes before discussing anything else.

The payoff is obvious. We get to be in a better mood and combat stress, anxiety, and depression. Others in our lives get to enjoy our ‘better selves.’ Moods are contagious. Would you rather project a positive, happy mood or a negative, dour mood? You can choose and you can take action to share the happiness advantage.