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The Happiness Advantage

There are tons of self-help books out there. This one is different. It’s The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

It starts with a common assumption about life: if you’re successful, then you’ll be happy. Then it flips this assumption on its head. Then it takes this fresh perspective and fuels it with scientific support.

In order to truly appreciate this book, you really need to grab a copy of it and explore all the psychological studies and personal stories described in it. To keep this post short and to the point, I’ll spare you a laundry list of those examples. Instead, I’ll give you my main takeaways after reading it (twice!).

Here are my top 3 takeaways from The Happiness Advantage.

Takeaway #1: Positivity improves performance. It’s science.

“Happiness is not just a mood—it’s a work ethic.” — Shawn Achor (author of The Happiness Advantage)

Okay, maybe you’re not super shocked to hear that happiness can make you more productive at work. But the scientific and psychological findings on this point are pretty freaking amazing.

Chemically speaking, happiness gives people a measurable competitive edge. Happiness rewires our brains to improve the way we organize and recall information. And happiness makes us more creative and analytical. This isn’t just motivational speaking mumbo-jumbo. Actual studies of the human brain reveal these changes.

But happiness is a fragile thing. As the author highlights, it takes three positive interactions to offset a negative one. The more positive interactions you add to this equation, the better you perform at work. But if your work experiences fall below this 3:1 ratio, your performance takes a serious hit.

Another way of saying this is that beliefs affect reality. As the author puts it, “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.” Thankfully, he rephrases this in plain English: “the more you believe in your own ability to succeed, the more likely it is that you will.”

The author provides a boatload of examples to illustrate this point. People who are told they’re getting a lot of exercise merely through their daily routine will lose more weight than people who don’t hear that message. Mediocre students can advance to the top of their class if they believe they’re geniuses. My favorite example of this is a personal story the author tells in the book about convincing his sister she was a unicorn to get her to stop crying while they were playing as kids. He retells the story in this TED talk here, and it’s well worth watching.

It seems like the American Dream needs a new definition. Don’t pursue happiness; create it.

Takeaway #2: Focus on the positives through rose-tinted (not rose-colored) glasses.

Our brains work off of patterns to help us make sense of reality. Many people, due to their jobs or natural personality, are really good at spotting negative patterns.

My mom, for example, has an incredible talent for seeing potential negatives. If you ever want to move and feel like getting talked out of a certain house or rental unit, just invite my mom along. She’ll point out at least 5 things that are wrong with the place.

Many lawyers are the same way. Law school is a training grounds for spotting risks and flaws.

Even though it can be difficult to be around these people, it can be a useful skill to know how to look for negatives. Still, you can get stuck in that pattern of thinking. And the better we get at it, the more likely we are to miss out on the positives. While it can be useful at work, a critical mindset can be damaging with friends and family.

Rather than focusing on negativity and failure, try to spot patterns of possibility and opportunity. Start a gratitude journal. The point is not to be naively positive but rather to develop a healthy dose of optimism.

Takeaway #3: Willpower is limited, so reroute the path of least resistance.

Anyone who’s ever tried to add a new diet, exercise, or morning routine to their daily life has experienced draining willpower. Habits are hard to keep.

“Unfortunately,” writes the author, “we face a steady stream of tasks that deplete our willpower every single day.” As we go through our day, we naturally give into the easy, comfortable decisions.

Human nature prefers the path of least resistance.

So, how can we combat this? Disable shortcuts for bad habits, and create shortcuts for good habits. Minimize the amount of decisions you have to make throughout the day so that you can save your mental energy for major decisions that require significant willpower.

Again, the author has a great examples here from personal experiences and scientific studies. Having trouble sticking to that morning exercise routine? Sleep with your workout clothes on. Want to practice the guitar more? Place it in the middle of the room so you can’t ignore it. In other words, create a setup so that it would take more work to not do it than it would take to do it.

How will you increase your happiness?

How has your mood affected your work performance lately? What actions do you take to keep a positive attitude? Let us know in the comments.