A common misconception in our society is that success leads to happiness. It’s not uncommon to hear people make comments such as: “If I was able to get that promotion, things would be perfect”, or “Things will be great when I finish school and get that job”, “If I could just lose 10 pounds, I’d be happy” or a line I heard a lot in grad school “I’ll be happy when I finally finish this thesis and get it defended” (OK, I admit, I was guilty of this one a few years back!). The problem with making our happiness conditional on achieving these types of goals is that once we reach the goal, we replace is with something else so it becomes a vicious chase (not to mention we are unlikely to enjoy the process!).
In his book, the Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor (2010) does an amazing job of summarizing years of research in the area of positive psychology that proves that this idea that success leads to happiness is just not true. In fact, the research demonstrates the contrary: happiness and a more positive attitude actually breed success (Lyubormirsky, King, Diener, 2005)! “When we are happy – when our mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful” (Achor, p.37) Seven principles are outlined in the book on how to increase our happiness, satisfaction and ultimately our performance and success. So, what can we do to be happier and more positive in our day-to-day lives? Research has demonstrated that we have more control over our emotional well being than it was believed in the past (Lyubormirsky, Sheldon & Schade, 2005), so here are some ideas taken from Achor’s Happiness Advantage — a few things to try!
We are hearing more and more about the benefits of mediation in the media and it is becoming more and more popular. Achor suggests that just 5 minutes a day of mindful breathing can be helpful and that it is one of the best tools to increase our happiness. Studies have shown that a regular mediation practice increases happiness and lowers stress (Shapiro, Schwartz & Santerre, 2005). If the idea of starting a meditation practice sounds intimidating, there are many great apps (ex. Headspace) that can help, so why not give it a try?!
We’ve all heard that exercise releases endorphins which are feel good chemicals, but Achor points out that exercise can also help us feel more motivated and decrease levels of stress. Try to get moving doing something you enjoy, and why not invite a friend to join you? (Achor also stresses the benefits of strong social relationships on our mood).
Sometimes the anticipation of an event is often a source of great pleasure. Achor suggests making a conscious effort to plan things we enjoy in advance and then reminding ourselves about the upcoming event for a quick mood boost. Studies have found that just thinking about something you’re looking forward to can increase levels of endorphins; also know as “feel good” hormones. A great excuse to book a vacation in advance!
Our physical environment has a big impact on our mood. Try getting out during your day for a short walk and a breath of fresh air, place a photo from a family vacation you enjoyed in your office, or bring some fresh flowers from your garden to work.
Research has demonstrated that people who engage in acts of kindness report feeling happier (Post, 2005; Lyubomirsky, 2007). Achor suggests trying to make a conscious effort to engage in random acts of kindness for a quick mood boost. Why not do something thoughtful for a colleague or a friend today (send a kind email to a colleague or friend, treat someone to coffee)? A cute example taken from author Jane McGonigal’s book “Superbetter”: Text a friend asking them how their day is going on a scale of 1-10. Then ask them how you can bring their day up a few notches, for example from a 3 to a 5 or a 7 to a 9.
Studies have shown that spending money on experiences, particularly those shared in the company of others has a more positive effect on our mood than buying objects or things (Frank, 2000). Spending on others (ex. treating a friend to coffee) also has a more positive impact on our mood.
Achor points out that we all have something we’re good at. What we might not know is that whenever we perform that task, we get a mood boost. The same is true when we use one of our character strengths. Achor shares that he loves to learn, so he tries to incorporate learning into tasks that he finds less interesting. Such a great way to change your mindset!
Try to be mindful about moments you’re grateful for. Make a conscious effort to note five things at the end of the day that you are grateful for, anything from your morning cup of coffee, to the sound of birds chirping, to the restful sleep you had.
I hope you enjoy trying to bring more happiness into your daily lives with these “Happiness Advantage” tips. The fun doesn’t end here though! Stay tuned for Part 2 of this post with more ideas from the book. You can also check out Achor’s TedTalk here:
Achor, Shawn. (2010). The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. Crown Business: New York.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803–855.
Lyubomirsky, S., Sheldon, K. M., & Schkade, D. (2005). Pursuing happiness: The architecture of sustainable change. Review of General Psychology, 9, 111–131.
Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The how of happiness: A new approach to getting the life you want. New York, NY: Penguin Group Inc.
McGonical, Jane. (2015). SuperBetter: A Revolutionary Approach to Getting Stronger, Happier, Braver and More Resilient–Powered by the Science of Games. London: Harper Collins.
Post, Stephen. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: it’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.
Shapiro, S. L., Schwartz, G. E., & Santerre, C. (2005). Meditation and positive psychology. In C. R. Snyder & S. J. Lopez (Eds.), Handbook of positive psychology (pp. 632-645). New York: Oxford USA Trade.