In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor explains how we can reframe our minds to be happier and our lives to be more successful.

What comes first, happiness or success?

Once I get that job, I’ll be able to enjoy myself.

Once I meet the one, I’ll finally be content.

Once I’m on the path to success, I’ll be happy.

That’s ALL WRONG.

First comes happiness, then comes success.

Positive thinking (happy) brains have a biological advantage over their peers. 

Positive emotions allow us to learn and process information better due to elevated levels of dopamine and serotonin. These brain chemicals play an important part in regulating your mood, which triggers a positive feeling in the body.

If you’re happy, you are more likely to be successful.

Achor provides six strategies to adjust our thoughts:

  • The Fulcrum and the Lever
  • The Tetris Effect
  • Falling Up
  • The Zorro Circle
  • The 20-Second Rule
  • Social Investment

The Fulcrum and the Lever: 

Give me a level long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world.

– Archimedes

As individuals, our fulcrum (or pivot point) and lever are the way we engage the world, our mindset. We need an “internal locus of control,”  the belief your outcomes are a direct result of your actions.  Own your life.

If you got out of bed in the morning, you made a conscious decision to make your body move, even if it doesn’t always feel like it. As Stephen Covey demonstrated in the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, we are the masters of our own lives.

Achor cites an experiment where nursing home residents were given more control over their daily lives, such as taking care of their house plants, increased their happiness and dropped their mortality rate in half (although, I assume they still eventually died). 

Feeling tired in the morning? You should’ve gotten more sleep.

Excited about a new promotion? You positioned yourself to get it.

“Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

– Seneca

The Tetris Effect: 

Remember playing Tetris? Everything is going well. Then you misplace one piece and every additional piece compounds the problem?

Escape the Tetris Thinking
A single mistake followed by a downward spiral.

When our brains are hyper-focused on stress, negativity, and failure, we see a more challenging picture than reality. 

We need to retrain our brains to see patterns of possibility rather than the cascade of negativity. When you learn to talk back to your negative thoughts, you take away their power and help yourself feel better.

Falling Up: 

Learn from your mistakes. 

This is exemplified by the former South African President, Nelson Mandela, who said “I don’t ever lose. I either win or I learn.”

The only way to improve is to take on increasingly challenging tasks — along with that comes risk and failure. But, if you learn from it, you’re going to become more capable and powerful.

One way to implement this is to write an after-action review after every failure (and success). Observe your thoughts without judgment.

  • What was supposed to happen? 
  • What actually happened? 
  • What went well? 
  • What went poorly? 
  • How could things be done better?

The Zorro Circle: 

When Zorro began his training, he started in a small ring where things were simpler and he had a higher success rate. As he grew in skill and confidence, the ring expanded to continue growing his abilities.

We should replicate this strategy.

Start with a small, manageable goal that is almost easy enough to trip over. Once we build our confidence and abilities, we level up our goals. 

zorro circles help towards happiness

Throughout the process, we need to celebrate our successes. 

Achor, referencing the Bible, says this: “The creation account in Genesis tells us God looked at everything he created and called it good. He didn’t wait until the whole creation was done. He did it at each stage. That’s a good model for us too.”

Think about it, when is the last time you rewarded yourself when you have done something well? 

The 20-Second Rule: 

Our willpower is limited. By acknowledging our preference for the path of least resistance, we can make small life adjustments to replace bad habits with good ones. 

I challenge you to put your television remote in a different room with the batteries removed after each use and instead put your Kindle beside the couch. At the end of the day, when you plop down onto the couch, are you willing to expend the extra effort to get the remote? Maybe, but you’re more likely to read on your Kindle instead.

Similarly, if you sleep in your running clothes with your shoes beside the bed while leaving your phone charging elsewhere, you’ve significantly reduced the friction when beginning your morning routine. 

Social Investment: 

Successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward. 

Achor states there is one characteristic distinguishing the happiest 10 percent of people from everyone else; the strength of their relationships.

That doesn’t mean building a network for your own gain but building genuine, authentic two-way relationships. 

invest in your social networks

When you’re struggling, do you turn into a hermit? Instead, provide others the opportunity to step up and help you. Win-win.

Actively invest in your relationships. Prioritize relationships in your schedule and make yourself available.

Conclusion

Achor’s prioritization of happiness before success was a stark realization for me. Everything, including our mindset and perception, is completely within our control. Why should my happiness be conditional upon external factors? 

Manage your thoughts because your thoughts control your life. If you want to be happy changing the way we perceive life through positive thinking is one way to do it.

Which of the six strategies discussed can you implement immediately to start living a happier life?


A big thanks goes out to Keith and Tiffany for their feedback and assistance! Thank you, both!

About Scott

Writer. Teacher. Learner. Keen on process and individual improvement. And running really, really far.

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