The Happiness Advantage
Shawn Achor

By Danijela Glamoclija

The second YWE Book club of the year met to discuss The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. The main focus of the book discussed the idea that happiness is the fuel for success and that our brains can become more engaged and productive at work.  Using stories and case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor takes a detailed look at how we can re-train our brains to become more positive in order to gain the competitive edge in the work force.

Achor defines happiness as the joy we feel striving after our potential. The group agreed that they related to the happiness advantage the most when they are striving to reach their full potential rather than the feeling of happiness after meeting their potential. The group felt that it was more about the journey in achieving the goal as well as the happiness we attach to it along the way.

The ice breaker questions were: Which of the seven principals comes more naturally to you? Which of the principals would you find the hardest to implement? 

The social investment and the happiness advantage were the two principles that resonated the most with the group as the principals that came the most natural to everyone. The group agreed that the falling up principle would be the most difficult to implement because it takes awareness and energy to pick yourself up after a setback. It also takes energy to reject the belief that a negative setback is a stumbling block rather than an opportunity to move forward.

Everyone in the group felt that they were naturally positive people in general and found they were typically extra kind to those around them. They discussed how they enjoy spreading positivity in the workforce and how it affects their well-being, not only for themselves but for those around them as well.

According to Shawn Achor, the seven principals of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work are:

1. The Happiness advantage – how happiness gives your brain and the organization you are contributing to, the competitive advantage. According to Achor, happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential. How to capitalize the happiness advantage: meditate, find something to look forward to, commit conscious acts of kindness, infuse positivity into your surroundings, exercise, spend money on positive experiences or learning and have three positive interactions to every one negative interaction (Losada Line).

2. The Fulcrum and the Lever – change your performance by changing your mindset. Our brains are like single processors capable of devoting only a finite amount of resources to experiencing the world. We can leverage it to see the world through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism and meaning.
Our power to maximize our potential depend on two things:

1. the length of the lever – how much potential power and possibility we believe we have
2. the position of our fulcrum – the mindset with which we generate the power to change

3. The Tetris Effect – training your brain to capitalize on possibility. You need to be stuck in positive Tetris Effect (a pattern of thinking or behaving as if you’ve played hours of Tetris, after which everything looks like Tetris pieces). Three tools: happiness, gratitude, and optimism. Write a daily journal of three good things or say three things to be thankful for before dinner. The more you focus on what is positive in your life, the happier you will feel. There are studies that have found that gratitude is integral to our wellbeing and people are less likely to be depressed, anxious or lonely. Optimism is a great indicator of work performance and those who are optimistic set more goals and stay more engaged in difficult times.

4. Falling Up – capitalize on the challenging times to build upward momentum in your life. The third path (other than spiraling down or status quo) can take us to a place where we are even stronger and more capable than before the fall. For instance, Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team and then became one of the world’s most famous and talented basketball athletes. The third path is a path that people should be looking for as it is the most positive and productive path. It focuses on how a person thinks and feels about a challenging time in their life. A person can rise above the challenging situation by thinking and believing that they can and will get through it.

A few strategies to help you fall upwards:

  • Change your reaction to a positive one (“I could have died.”).
  • Change your explanatory style to an optimistic one (“It’s not that bad, and it’ll get better.”)
  • Learn your ABCD (Adversity, Belief, Consequence, and Disputation ) Adversity is the event we can't change. Belief is our reaction to the event. Consequences can be positive or negative depending on our beliefs around it. Disputation involves telling ourselves that the belief is just a belief and then challenging it in order to move forward.
  • The Zorro Circle – by limiting your focus to small, manageable goals, you can expand your sphere of power. Success correlates with the belief that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes.

For example:

  • Start running laps before training for a marathon.
  • “Don’t write a book, write a page…” Japanese Kaisen.
  • Separate out what you can control and what you cannot.
  • Clean out a small circle instead of the entire room.
  • Cleaning out the graffiti and fixing the broken glass are the first steps for New Yorkers to reverse the crime rate.

Small successes can add up to major achievements. All it takes is drawing that first circle in the sand.

5. The 20-second rule – 20 seconds or the activation energy can affect how we achieve goals. Often times, we can become distracted when it comes to achieving our goals where it can take more energy and effort to get started. For example, if you wanted to learn how to play the guitar, you can put the guitar within immediate reach so that it is available for you to play. The activation energy is low so that you can pick up the guitar more easily than if it was sitting in a closet. If you want to limit the amount of television you watch, you can take the batteries out of the remote and place the batteries in a drawer 20 seconds away from the television. We can lower or eliminate the activation energy for the habits we want to adopt and raise it for the habits we want to avoid.

6. Social Investment – social support is your single greatest asset. It's important to hold tight to your social connection when under stress. Correlation between happiness and social support is huge. The more engaged and connected you feel, the more energy you will have and the longer you can focus on a task.

7. The Ripple Effect – spread the happiness advantage at work, home and beyond. Our actions have a ripple effect due to the mirror neurons. By practicing the seven principles, we are spreading the happiness around us.

The group also discussed how genetics can play a part in happiness and came to the conclusion that even unhappy people have the ability to change their perspective.  It is a matter of shifting of our thoughts into a more positive mind frame over time.

By the end of the evening, the group felt inspired by the discussion of The Happiness Advantage.  We can achieve great things in our lives through gratitude, happiness and belief in ourselves.