Is Your Happiness Advantage Backwards? Fix It!

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During my morning routine in search of  pearls of wisdom from thought leaders, I came across Shawn Achor’s TED Talk

The Happy Secret To Better Work.

If you maintain a positive attitude your brain becomes more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive. — Shawn

Shawn’s principles are well worth grasping and integrating into your psyche.

Enjoy these selected highlights from the interactive transcript from his TED Talk. Go grab a healthy beverage and enjoy what Shawn has to say!

  • You can retrain your brain to spot patterns of possibility, so you see—and seize—opportunities wherever you look.
  • You can channel your efforts on small, manageable goals, to gain the leverage to gradually conquer bigger and bigger ones.
  • You can reap the rewards of investing in one of the greatest predictors of success and happiness—your social support network. 

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

Selected excerpts from his interactive transcript. Full transcript is here  

Our most commonly held formula for success is 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. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow.

But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually 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 repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe. 

If asked “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?” scientists will change the answer to “How fast does the average child learn how to read in that classroom?” and then we tailor the class towards the average. 

We study what is merely average, we will remain merely average. Then instead of deleting those positive outliers, what I intentionally do is come into a population like this one and say, why? Why is it that some of you are so high above the curve in terms of your intellectual ability, athletic ability, musical ability, creativity, energy levels, your resiliency in the face of challenge, your sense of humor? 

Whatever it is, instead of deleting you, what I want to do is study you. Because maybe we can glean information — not just how to move people up to the average,but how we can move the entire average up in our companies and schools worldwide.

When I turn on the news, it seems like the majority of the information is not positive, in fact its negative. Most of it’s about murder, corruption, diseases, natural disasters. And very quickly, my brain starts to think that’s the accurate ratio of negative to positive in the world. What that’s doing is creating something called the medical school syndrome — which, if you know people who’ve been to medical school, during the first year of medical training, as you read through a list of all the symptoms and diseases that could happen, suddenly you realize you have all of them.

See what we’re finding is it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.

Our external world is predictive of our happiness levels, when in reality, if I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10 percent of your long-term happiness. 

And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality. 

What we found is that only 25 percent of job successes are predicted by IQ

75 job successes predicted by optimism level, social support ability to see stress as a challenge instead of  threat

The absence of disease is not health. Here’s how we get to health: We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success. In the last three years, I’ve traveled to 45 different countries, working with schools and companies in the midst of an economic downturn. And what I found is that most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier. That under-minds most of our parenting styles, our managing styles,the way that we motivate our behavior.

And the problem is it’s scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.

But the real problem is our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37 percent better at sales.

Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed. Which means we can reverse the formula.

If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.

What we need to be able to do is to reverse this formula so we can start to see what our brains are actually capable of. Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive, has two functions. Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.

We’ve found that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. 

In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully. 

We’ve done these things in research now in every single company that I’ve worked with, getting them to write three new things that they’re grateful for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.

Journal one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters. We find that meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand. And finally, random acts of kindness are conscious acts of kindness.We get people, when they open up their inbox, to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in their social support network.

And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we’ve found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but create a real revolution.

This post was inspired by Shawn Achor an American author who spent 12 years at Harvard studying what makes people happy. He is a leading expert on the connection between happiness and success and has worked with successful leaders all over the world. In addition, he has written a number of New York Times best-selling books, including Before Happiness, Ripple’s Effect and The Orange Frog.