BUSINESS
05/10/2016 02:31 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

The Business Case For Being Really, Really Happy

If you're not aiming to have a great quality of life along with your business success, it's time to start. The reason: The happier and more positive you are in life, the more success you will achieve for yourself, your team and your clients.

So says Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think and an expert in the field of positive psychology. Through his research at Harvard University and elsewhere, he's proven something remarkable:

"When our brains are in positive states, the outcomes we achieve in our businesses improve," he says.

That means happiness isn't ancillary to success -- happiness actually generates and magnifies your success and the success of those around you. Achor calls this "the happiness advantage."

Example: In one of Achor's studies, a group of physicians who were primed to be more positive before meeting with patients were 19 percent faster and more accurate with their diagnoses than another group of doctors who weren't encouraged to be happy and positive.

Here's a look at how happiness works to create greater success in your business, and how to train your brain to get a demonstrable return on the investment you make in your happiness.

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Happiness gives us a competitive edge. Happiness has a special function. When our moods are elevated, dopamine is released in our brains and activates the brain's learning centers. Those moments when we feel positive and happy are also the moments when our brains are most able to take in information -- and adapt to challenges. When we feel stressed out, or even neutral, our brains prevent us from learning and adapting. If you are stressed out and unhappy and you change your mindset to be more positive and happy, you will achieve greater success.

Some examples from Achor's research of the results of the brain going from negative or neutral to happy and positive:

  • 31 percent increase in productivity
  • 37 percent increase in sales
  • 40 percent higher likelihood of a promotion
  • 3X increase in identifying solutions to problems

Says Achor: "Happiness is actually one of the greatest competitive advantages in the modern economy. When we compare two entrepreneurs with similar skills sets and ideas and backgrounds, the one with the positive mindset will push harder, be more resilient and creative, connect better with people, and generate more success."

Happiness is a choice. Many people think they are genetically predisposed to being happy or unhappy, in general, while others believe happiness is determined by their environment. But as it turns out, 90 percent of our happiness is determined by how we view the world. Actual reality can predict only 10 percent of our happiness.

Yes, genetics and our situations can set our baseline levels of happiness. But that's not the whole story. "We have more control over those forces than we once thought. By making small conscious habit changes or small changes to our mindset, we can actually trump our genes and our experiences and raise our levels of happiness, " says Achor. "We can choose to be better than our genes and our surroundings."

The message: Change the lens through which you view your situation, and you can boost your level of happiness -- and, ultimately, your level of success in business and in life.

Happiness spreads. If you choose to be a happy and positive leader in your company, you actually cause the brains of the people around you to tilt toward the belief that happiness is a choice for them, too -- and they start to make mindset changes that boost their happiness levels.

The fact that your happiness imprints onto others has huge implications for you as an entrepreneur. Think about it: You don't work on an island -- you have partners, team members, employees, investors, clients and customers. Your happiness can have a domino effect on all of those people and significant improve your company culture and your business outcomes at every level of your firm.

3 steps to greater happiness and success

Now you know you can literally choose to be more successful by choosing to be happier and more positive. What's more, you can steer those around you toward greater success by helping them view the world in more positive ways.

Achor suggests three ways to start imprinting lasting positive patterns onto you, your team and your clients. Don't attempt all three of these at once. Rather, choose one and implement it every day for 21 consecutive days.

1. List three gratitudes. Each morning, write down three things that happened in the last 24 hours for which you're grateful. By looking for gratitudes rather than stressors, the brain builds new pathways that turn pessimists into optimists -- and turn optimists into even greater optimists. Achor worked with bankers to implement this strategy, and their teams' efficiency and effectiveness rose within three weeks and remained elevated six months later.

2. Journal. Each day think back over your past 24 hours for one meaningful experience you had and spend two minutes writing down every detail you can remember from that experience. This helps the brain to recognize the meaning of the various things you do throughout a day and essentially "connect the dots" between your tasks. The result is that your brain starts to look for meaning in each of the many tasks on your list -- helping your brain recognize the happiness that comes from the process instead the results.

3. Say thank you. Social support is a huge driver of happiness and success, especially during challenging times. Yet our friends and other people close to us are often the first people we jettison when things get busy or stressful. But you don't need to go out for dinner with people every night to maintain effective social support. Instead, when you get into work, write a quick email (spend two minutes or less) praising or thanking someone in your social support network -- such as a client, coworker, partner, family member or friend. Pick a different person each day. In 21 days, your brain's perception of your social support will skyrocket -- and boost your odds of being successful in all your actions.

Achor admits that none of these strategies are new. And yet, ask yourself: How often, if ever, do you do any of these things? The fact is, common sense doesn't mean common action. These three action steps will actually generate an ROI that can ultimately impact your bottom line and the relationships you build and maintain with your clients and your team members for years to come.

Looking for a sustainable edge that will help catapult you over the competition? Check out the insights, tactics and actionable strategies from today's top entrepreneurs at AES Nation.