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Book Review: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

July 13, 2018

An integral part of psychotherapeutic treatment can often be supplemented by reading material relevant to your particular struggles and challenges. In this blog post, I would like to give an overview of one book in the field of positive psychology which has proven helpful for a wide range of mental health issues: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor.

Citation:

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work.  New York: Broadway Books.

While the subtitle states "The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work," the premises articulated by Achor can most certainly be applied in one's personal life as well.

The author begins with the idea that most of us work towards success, which we believe will then bring us happiness, which oftentimes doesn't materialize, which unfortunately inevitably leads us to chasing that next goal, and the next, with happiness always that elusive oasis just past the next sand dune. Achor says this logic is flawed; and over ten years of research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience actually proves the opposite: happiness is the precursor to success. He then proceeds to outline seven principles to guide the rubber-meets-road techniques to actually begin experiencing more happiness and optimism in life.

In "Principle #1: The Happiness Advantage," Achor discusses the benefits of meditation, finding things to look forward to, committing conscious and deliberate acts of kindness, and exercise, among others, in order to maximize growth of the left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy.

In "Principle #2: The Fulcrum and the Lever," he explains the malleability of external "reality" and the immense power of one's mindset to change that reality for the better, citing studies of the placebo effect, "Expectancy Theory," and the "Pygmalion Effect." Our external circumstances predict only about 10 percent of our total happiness, and by changing the way we perceive ourselves and our work, we can dramatically improve our results.

Moving on to "Principle #3: The Tetris Effect," Achor breaks down the problem of entrenched negative patterns in mental filtering and expectation. Basically, if we expect negative (or positive) things to happen, that's all we will look for and ultimately see. In other words, we tend to miss what we're not looking for. He suggests various exercises, such as a gratitude journal, to help strengthen the ability to notice, and therefore experience, more positivity in life, not to produce an overly Pollyanna-type mindset, but to simply develop a reasonable, realistic, healthy sense of optimism.

"Principle #4: Falling Up" explores the technique of recognizing "failure" as the next opportunity to learn and grow, seeing adversity "not as a stumbling block, but as a stepping-stone to greatness." He also discusses the amazing and often unrecognized resilience of the human psyche.

Moving on to "Principle #5: The Zorro Circle," the author unpacks the brain's dueling components of the emotional system and rational, cognitive system. He explains that we can regain control over "emotional hijacking" by breaking our experience down into "circles," the first circle being self-awareness, the second being letting go of issues beyond our control, and third, tackling small challenges one at a time--a narrow circle that slowly expands outward--helping us to relearn that we can experience success, progress, and a feeling well-being based on those small but consequential accomplishments.

"Principle #6: The 20-Second Rule" creatively capitalizes on our limited willpower to avoid common pitfalls and to actually accomplish the goals we've set for ourselves. Stated simply, if you just put 20 seconds of extra effort between you and undesired behavior, your path-of-least-resistance-loving brain will naturally not follow up in overcoming the inertia required to engage in that unwanted activity. In other words, he says to make it a total pain to do the things you don't want to do, and make your desired behaviors the easiest to do.

Finally, with "Principle #7: Social Investment," Achor discusses the profound importance of social relationships and support for experiencing resilience and happiness, citing that there are "70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world." This study's findings have been duplicated time and time again.

Achor concludes the book by emphasizing the importance of fostering one's own personal happiness not just for the good of the individual, but for the good of society as a whole, since, as a social species, our emotions are "contagious." Each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organizations, our families, and our communities.

The Happiness Advantage is short, only 256 pages, but it packs a powerful, efficient punch. As most of us lead busy, hectic lives with hundreds of distractions competing for our attention on a daily basis, this book offers rich value and return in the relatively small time investment required for its read. In other words, reading this book will not be a waste of time.

[Note: I receive no personal gains, financial or otherwise, from the proliferation of The Happiness Advantage.]

If you would like to discuss the principles of this book in person with me, please schedule an appointment by clicking on the "Schedule Now" button below.


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