We’ve all fallen into the trap of thinking that happiness comes only once we have achieved our definition of success. But what if, in fact, there is hard scientific evidence that shows we perform better and are more likely to succeed if we cultivate happiness daily rather than seeing it as a goal in the future?
This is the underlying idea behind Harvard professor Shawn Achor’s incredibly readable and enlightening The Happiness Advantage. Like the once commonly held belief that the sun revolves around the Earth, he writes that the myth of happiness revolving around achievement and success must be exploded (view the video on YouTube here)Co-creator of a now famous Happiness course at Harvard, Achor was so inspired by the extraordinary popularity of the course that he decided to use Harvard students as a test pool for his own research into the area of positive psychology. He was surprised to find that depression seems to be very common at Harvard, as it indeed is in the Western world.During his years as a student there, he remained in a bubble of wonder and awe at the beauty and magnitude of the prestigious institution and the opportunities and resources it provided. He says he still feels the same way today. He has noticed, however, that although most students view Harvard as a privilege, many fall prey to the pressures of the workload and competition and sacrifice relationships for the sake, presumably, of succeeding academically. They worry endlessly about their futures and compare themselves to each other; in a place where most people were likely top of their high school class, this is a dangerous and futile exercise.
Achor contrasts this with a visit to the township of Soweto in South Africa. Thinking he would get a resounding ‘no’ from the children he was speaking to when he asked the question, ‘Who here likes to do schoolwork?’ he instead was shocked to see that 95% of the children in the audience had raised their hand.
What this surely must tell us all is that we easily lose sight in the West of the privileges and opportunities we have and that in the face of stress and pressure, we don’t possess the tools to manage our equilibrium.
Providing us with these is the purpose of this book. Achor gives us evidence and practical advice in the form of seven broad principles. These are:
- The Happiness Advantage: How happiness gives your brain—and your organization—the competitive edge
- The Fulcrum and the Lever: Changing your performance by changing your mindset
- The Tetris Effect: Training your brain to capitalize on possibility
- Falling up: Capitalizing on the downs to build upward momentum
- The Zorro Circle: How limiting your focus to small, manageable goals can expand your sphere of power
- The 20 Second Rule: How to turn bad habits into good ones by minimizing barriers to change
- Social Investment: Why social support is your single greatest asset
Achor now travels the world as a positive psychology consultant working with companies great and small. Reading this book, it is easy to see why the positive psychology movement is growing so rapidly and being adopted so widely.
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