One of the things I love most about my work is that my fascinating, knowledgeable clients teach me things I'm excited to learn. Recently a client shared with me the riveting TED talk by the world's leading positive psychology expert and bestselling author Shawn Achor on The Happy Secret to Better Work. Shawn is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard, and has become one of the world's leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. His TED talk is one of the most popular of all time with over 4 million views, and he has a new lecture airing on PBS called "The Happiness Advantage."
When my client told me about the talk, I questioned whether there would be anything new that I hadn't already heard about happiness in my training as a therapist, but wow, was I wrong. Throughout it, I laughed out loud (Shawn's a hoot!), but then stopped in my tracks and pondered hard on how my own level of happiness and joy are impacting my success.
I reached out to Shawn to learn more about how our brains in "positive" mode versus negative, neutral or stressed actually give us an enormous advantage in life and work, and how we can influence our minds to embrace more happiness through our daily actions. This Happiness Advantage as Shawn calls it can be the difference between leading a fulfilling, joyful and successful life and living far beneath our potential (see his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work for more).
Shawn explained that our society's most commonly held formulas for success are broken. Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we'll be happy. We think, "If I can just find that great job, or win that next promotion, lose those ten pounds, or (fill in the blank), then happiness will follow."
But Shawn's extensive research and other recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is completely backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn't just an empty mantra. This discovery has been borne out repeatedly by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the world. Shawn now spends his time teaching, advising and lecturing at top organizations on how we can -- in five easy steps -- reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work and create more success, happiness and reward in our lives.
I asked Shawn what I wanted to know about happiness and success. Here are his answers:
What specifically impacts our happiness and how can we shift it?
The three greatest predictors of happiness are optimism (the belief your behavior will eventually matter), social connection, and how we perceive stress (as a challenge or as a threat). If we want to raise happiness we need to make both mindset and behavior shifts.
What are the five key steps that we can take each day to increase our experience of happiness?
1) Bring gratitude to mind: Write down three NEW things that you are grateful for each day
2) Journal: About a positive experience you've had recently for two minutes once a day
3) Exercise: Engage in 15 minutes of mindful cardio activity
4) Meditate: Watch your breath go in and out for two minutes a day and
5) Engage in a random, conscious act of kindness: Write a two-minute positive email thanking a friend or colleague, or compliment someone you admire on social media
Do these steps for 21 days, and you will begin to see a lasting shift in your mindset towards more positivity.
How are you using this information to increase the success of organizations and leaders?
Happiness is a choice, but leaders and companies can make that choice easier by providing education about how to raise positivity in the workplace, creating social engagements, authentically praising individuals. My job is to use the science to convince companies to realize that the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged workforce. Those that realize that, focus helping cultivate positive work environments which results in the happiness advantage.
What is the Happiness Advantage exactly?
Your brain works significantly better at positive than at negative, neutral or stressed. Every single business and educational outcome improves when we start at positive rather than waiting for a future success. Sales improve 37 percent cross-industry, productivity by 31 percent, you're 40 percent more likely to receive a promotion, nearly 10 times more engaged at work, live longer, get better grades, your symptoms are less acute, and much more.
As an expert in positive psychology, what do you know about happiness that the rest of us don't?
Genes and environment will define your happiness, UNLESS you make conscious changes to your mindset and habits. If you do the latter, your happiness will no longer remain under the tyranny of your genes, childhood and environment.
In the end, happiness is not the belief that we don't need to change. It is the belief that we can.
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How is your level of positivity and happiness shaping your success? Take these five steps for 21 days and share with me here what transpires for you.
(For more about Shawn Achor, visit www.shawnachor.com and The Happiness Advantage.)