Work your hardest to become successful and you’ll win the ultimate prize, happiness. This is what you were probably taught, and yet, have you found that success is an ever-moving target? As you reach one goal it’s replaced by another and the chase is on again. You find yourself putting happiness on the back burner as you set out in hot pursuit of the next target that you’ve decided equals success.
But what if you had it all wrong? What if sacrificing happiness in the pursuit of success was exactly the opposite of what you should do? What if the real key to success was to be happy first? That is the subject of Shawn Achor book, ‘The Happiness Advantage’.
The book in a nutshell
Backed by extensive research, the author stresses that happiness actually comes before success. He makes the point that waiting to be happy not only limits the brain’s potential but leads to a decrease in motivation, resilience and productivity. This is exacerbated when we constantly focus on the negative as our brains get tricked into believing that life is mostly negative. That, in effect, becomes our reality.
But cultivating positivity and taking advantage of the resulting happiness is possible and the author shows us how. Through his dissection of the research (his and many others) he has identified seven specific, actionable, and proven patterns that predict success and achievement. He calls these patterns, principles, and shows us how to use them to leverage happiness and positivity to achieve even greater success.
Maximising our potential in the future will require that we learn how to cultivate the mindset and behaviours that have been scientifically proven to lead to greater success and fulfilment. Achor reminds us that our thoughts and actions are constantly changing the neural pathways in our brains. His seven principles work together to shift our mindset to positivity. The more we practice the more they become established as habits that can endure.
Three of the seven principles are outlined below:
The Fulcrum and the Lever – How we experience the world, and our ability to succeed within it, constantly changes based on our mindset. This principle teaches us how we can adjust our mindset (our fulcrum) in a way that gives us the power (the lever) to be more fulfilled and successful.
As the author puts it, our ability to maximize our potential is based on two things: the length of our lever (how much potential power and possibility we believe we have) and the position of our fulcrum (the mindset with which we generate the power to change).
Believing in our own abilities is important but believing that we can improve these abilities is the key and for that reason we must cultivate a growth mindset. The more we believe in our own ability to succeed, the more likely it is that we will.
Reality is fluid as it is essentially our brain’s relative understanding of the world based on where and how we are observing it. By changing this perspective we can change our experience of the world around us.
The Tetris Effect – When our brains get stuck in a pattern that focuses on stress, negativity, and failure, we set ourselves up to fail. This principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility, so we can identify and take advantage of opportunities around us.
For most of us, our brains are biased to the negative but constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals. But neuroplasticity has shown us that in the same way that our brains have been wired in ways that hold us back they can also be rewired to look for the good things in life.
The first step is to understand that a lot of what we see comes down to what we focus on. We can train our brains to constantly pick up on the positives in any situation and open up to more opportunities for success. This doesn’t have to be an onerous practice instead we can start small. For instance, if we start writing down three good things that happen every day our brains will be forced to scan the previous day for potential positives that we may have overlooked. By doing this small exercise we can train our brains to notice and focus on possibilities and opportunities.
Social Investment – In the midst of challenges and stress, some of us choose to retreat and isolate ourselves but the most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to keep them moving forward. This principle teaches us how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence, our social support network.
The author references 70 years of research evidence that shows that our relationships matter more than anything else in helping us bounce back from setbacks faster, accomplish more, and feel a greater sense of purpose. Although we are often tempted to retreat when things are going badly, he argues that the only way to ‘save ourselves’ is to open up and hold on to those around us, those we can count on. Ultimately, those who invest in their social support systems are better able to thrive in the most challenging of circumstances.
It probably sounds trite to say that happiness is the key to success but the book demonstrates how scientific evidence proves that’s the case. Acknowledging that by cultivating happiness in our lives we have a better chance at success and fulfilment is a starting point. It doesn’t mean that we turn a blind eye to the negative but instead it’s about (as the author puts it) adjusting our brains so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances.
Maybe you’re thinking a book about happiness is not serious enough for you but what if the principles described actually work? Imagine being happier, more successful and creating a positive impact on those around you and beyond. That possibility alone makes it a worthy read.