The Happiness Factor

Recently I watched a TED talk called “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” given by Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc., a Cambridge-based consulting firm and author of The Happiness Advantage (Crown Business, 2010) .  I haven’t read his book, but I enjoyed his talk.

TED (the acronym for Technology, Entertainment, Design) is a private nonprofit organization known for its conferences on “ideas worth spreading” in the fields of education, technology, religion, healthcare, psychology, business, medicine, the arts, and science. 

Mr. Achor challenges the popularly held belief that achieving our work goals will make us happy.  In other words, our conviction that we will achieve happiness only when we get that job, make that sales target, or attain that promotion is not only mistaken but “scientifically broken.”  In fact, he states:

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.

I believe it.  I’ve experienced this myself.  When I feel supported, encouraged, and connected to others, my energy level does indeed rise and my productivity and creativity increase.  The barriers that I previously experienced, whether real or imagined, disappear and I feel capable of not only reaching my goals but doing so easily, effectively, efficiently.  Happiness first; success second. 

So how do we learn and incorporate “positivity” into our lives?  Is it achievable?  Mr. Achor insists that it is indeed attainable, and we can experience the “happiness advantage” by training our brains like we train our bodies–and we can do so in just two-minutes a day for twenty-one consecutive days.  He says:

In every single company that I’ve worked with, getting them to write down three new things that they’re grateful for for twenty-one days in a row…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.

Other recommended practices to rewire the brain toward happiness include:

  • Journal about one positive experience every twenty-fours–causes the brain to relive this positive experience.
  • Exercise–demonstrates that our behavior matters.
  • Meditate—helps increase focus in a multi-task world.
  • Perform random acts of kindness–perhaps send a compliment to someone’s email inbox.

As I think about Mr. Achor’s scientific work, I begin to see that I share in some personal responsibility to care for myself in order to contribute something positive to the lives of others.  When I feel energetic, I share that energy with others.  When I am focused, I listen more attentively to others.  When I perform random acts of kindness, I contribute something positive to someone’s day, and a “rippling effect” of such practice begins to happen.  Mr Achor states:

We can reverse the formula for happiness and success, and in doing so, not only create ripples of positivity, but create a real revolution.

What an exciting thought!

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