Are You Happy?

 

Are you positive? If not, you probably won’t be as successful as you could be. We often hear the refrain “Be positive,” but do we really take it to heart? Or are we too caught up in “being successful,” in “reaching the goal,” or in finding the right person to consider how important it is to be happy?

I recently watched a great TED Talk by Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think Inc., a Cambridge-based consulting firm that researches positive outliers (people who are well above average) to understand where success and happiness intersect. Achor does an excellent job in this short talk explaining how important it is to think positively. What I liked is that he gives some real practical advice on how to get started. I also appreciated his argument that if we think success will make us happy, we will never really be satisfied — because the bar of success is constantly moving. 

In the last three years, I’ve traveled to 45 different countries, working with schools and companies in the midst of an economic downturn. And what I found is that most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier. That undergirds most of our parenting styles, our managing styles, the way that we motivate our behavior.

And the problem is it’s scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.

Notice he doesn’t say success isn’t important. Success is good. The problem is when we put success first, as if our happiness is dependent on our success. Be happy first, then let success flow out of your happiness. You will find that you’re a much more peaceful and content person—and more successful. 

Too often, though, people focus on the task and the goal as the means to their happiness. When they do this, they get caught up in all the negativity that goes along with it—and the fear.

While working with college students at Harvard, Achor found that students didn’t build on the happiness and success of being accepted into such a distinguished college. Instead, “no matter how happy they were with their original success of getting into the school, two weeks later their brains were focused, not on the privilege of being there, nor on their philosophy or their physics. Their brain was focused on the competition, the workload, the hassles, the stresses, the complaints.” 

Through his research, Achor has found that when people are positive and happy first, they are more successful.

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. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37 percent better at sales. Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed. Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.

So how do we become more positive in the present? Each person’s path will be different, but Achor does give some helpful advice to get started. He’s found in his research that people who do these things every day for about a month actually become more positive and more successful. 

  1. Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had during the past 24 hours. This allows your brain to relive the positive experience.
  2. Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters.
  3. Meditate. This allows you to get over the cultural ADHD that we create by doing multiple tasks. Meditation helps you focus on the task at hand. This is important because we don’t realize how we never really focus on any one thing. This affects our performance level. I’ve also found that it affects my memory. When I’m thinking of too many things, I’m not really present with any one thing, and my mind can’t focus—it doesn’t take hold in my brain, and I forget.
  4. Conscious acts of kindness. Achor gives people a simple recommendation: When you open your inbox, write someone one positive email praising them or thanking them. I think this step, though, could be broadened to incorporate anything—helping people with their groceries at the store, giving a gift to a neighbor, etc. Of course, writing a sweet and encouraging email is a good way to start. I know I feel better after I send a random email of praise to someone who didn’t expect it—and I know they do too.

What do you think? Can we be more successful if we’re more positive first and don’t let our happiness hang on achieving that next best thing?

Are you happy? If not, maybe it’s because you’re waiting for something outside of yourself to make you happy. When you do that, you’re giving other people—and things beyond your control—power over your life. Happiness based on accomplishments, people, or events doesn’t last for long. Happiness only lasts when it comes from within.

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  1. user_138562 Moderator
    user_138562
    @RandyWeivoda

    I’m pretty happy.  Some people who are unhappy don’t even want to be happy.  They will speak of happiness mockingly, as if happiness is something for fools who are too naive to understand how miserable life is.  Trying to persuade them otherwise is pointless.

    • #1
  2. Stad Coolidge
    Stad
    @Stad

    Personally?  I’m happy.  I’m as happy as a cat on a tuna boat (sorry if I sound like a Geico commercial).  As usual, your posts make me think—which being a man, hurts my brain to no end—but, I’ll give it a try.

    The way I see it, there are two type of happiness:  happiness as defined by society, and happiness as defined by ourselves.

    Societal happiness is (IMHO) defined by things such as owning your own home, getting a college degree, having a great job, or marrying a former Playmate of the Month (sorry, I had to throw that last one in there—got an anniversary coming up—and no, she wasn’t a POTM, but is to me!).

    However, because we are individuals, we define happiness for ourselves.  Whether it’s teaching your children how to fish, rebuilding a classic muscle car, bowling in a league, or writing a best-selling science fiction novel, we define our own happiness goals.  Notice I said “goals.”

    Sure, some of the definitions overlap.  Ultimately, the individual defines his own happiness goals.  He may not reach them, but “the pursuit of happiness” is happiness in and of itself.

    • #2
  3. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Interesting post. I’ve always looked at “happiness” as one big pie requiring eight key ingredients: 
    1. Stable, nurturing childhood in a safe environment.
    2. Good health.
    3. Parents who have provided goals and standards and insisted you live up to them.
    4. A good marriage (with or without children).
    5. Loyal friends who both love and respect you.
    6. Fiscal success because it is critical to #7 and #8.
    7. Some semblance of security and feeling of accomplishment.
    8. Freedom of choice. (My most coveted ‘ingredient’)!

    • #3
  4. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Superficial happiness, one dimensional measures of success, studies of privileged undergraduates, checklist advice: sounds like TED talk, or a Cosmo article, to me.

    • #4
  5. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Genferei–Personally, I think his advice about not resting on outward things to make us happy is the opposite of superficial, but that’s just me, I guess.

    • #5
  6. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    D.C. McAllister:

    Genferei–Thank you for your gracious comment. Personally, I think his advice about not resting on outward things to make us happy is the opposite of superficial, but that’s just me, I guess.

    The good news is this blatantly superficial member thought Achor was charming, funny, and spot-on. :)

    • #6
  7. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    I do want to point out that the steps he gave are not for happiness but to redirect your brain to start thinking in a more positive way. Meditation (and some would add prayer to this), exercise, which really clears the mind, writing down and reflecting on the good things in your life and doing kind things for others will help you be more positive. Then you can be better equipped to pursue your goals and succeed at whatever you’re doing.

    • #7
  8. user_125733 Inactive
    user_125733
    @DebbieStevens

    EThompson:

    Interesting post. I’ve always looked at “happiness” as one big pie requiring eight key ingredients: 1. Stable, nurturing childhood in a safe environment.2. Good health.3. Parents who have provided goals and standards and insisted you live up to them.4. A good marriage (with or without children).5. Loyal friends who both love and respect you.6. Fiscal success because it is critical to #7 and #8.7. Some semblance of security and feeling of accomplishment.8. Freedom of choice. (My most coveted ‘ingredient’)!

    So far, so good. :)

     While I do agree that these factors set the stage for a viable pursuit of happiness, they are not the guarantees of happiness.  In fact, my missing several pieces of this pie was a considerable source of UN-happiness for much of my young adulthood.  When I learned that happiness [as well as love, joy, peace…] was my choice, I gradually became happier.  

    It was immensely liberating to realize that I didn’t have to live under those circumstances I couldn’t control [my childhood, for instance], but could appreciate the hardships as God’s way of forging my character into one that could appreciate true happiness.

    • #8
  9. Susan in Seattle Member
    Susan in Seattle
    @SusaninSeattle

    Years ago I had a wise teacher who said that happiness was dependent upon happenings.  I find this to be true.  The SiS household is full of joy and contentment.

    • #9
  10. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

    I’m not sure I follow the logic. The example of the Harvard students is a good one. Yes you made it to Harvard. But if you want to “stay” in Harvard, it’s a lot of work, which should necessarily make you worried. And the prospect of loosing your place in Harvard, can’t be good for being “positive”. 

    I like to think of this terms of prospect theory: people aren’t necessarily chasing for more success once they have achieved success. They’re trying to maintain their level of success. Maintaining success isn’t automatic: i.e. once you’ve gotten it, you can always lose it. 

    I’m not sure this analogy works in “personal goals”, but it seems to work in “business”. Simply being company #1 doesn’t mean your troubles are over. It means you have to work even harder now to keep being #1, because now you’ve put everyone else on a different frame of mind. 

    If anything, this “being positive” stuff seems “superficial” to me. Yes, some people seem to be naturally more “positive” than others. For most people however being “positive” seems pretty random to me. Some days I am, some days I’m not. It shifts by hour.

    • #10
  11. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    Debbie Stevens:

    EThompson:

    Interesting post. I’ve always looked at “happiness” as one big pie requiring eight key ingredients: 1. Stable, nurturing childhood in a safe environment.2. Good health.3. Parents who have provided goals and standards and insisted you live up to them.4. A good marriage (with or without children).5. Loyal friends who both love and respect you.6. Fiscal success because it is critical to #7 and #8.7. Some semblance of security and feeling of accomplishment.8. Freedom of choice. (My most coveted ‘ingredient’)!

    So far, so good. :)

    While I do agree that these factors set the stage for a viable pursuit of happiness, they are not the guarantees of happiness.

    There is no such thing as a guarantee in life, but I’m content to take some sound ‘stage settings’ and run with them. Notice that is there is not a single item on this list that happens accidentally.

    • #11
  12. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    AIG–for what it’s worth as someone who struggles with severe depression, the need to think positively is hardly superficial. He is also taking about productivity and well being. He has found–and I think it’s common among most studies–that positive people produce more. This isn’t just a personality type. Everyone can be positive. And in fact I think humans were created to be positive. We are at our best as humans when we are positive. When we have joy. These are hardly superficial things. IMO

    • #12
  13. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    AIG–I also think what you said about success and maintaining is interesting. I do think this depends on the person. It also depends on their particular goals. But it is often said that many people are never satisfied. There is always some pressure to do or be or have more.

    • #13
  14. AIG Inactive
    AIG
    @AIG

     I don’t disagree that being “positive” and “happy” and “joyful” is a good thing, and probably leads to more productivity etc. I’m not so sure that someone can “make” themselves positive. But, who knows. 

    As the saying goes, ignorance is bliss. I think something similar applies to “success”. More success leads to more work to maintain it, more worry about losing it, more competition from others who want to “take it away” (in the case of a business).

    • #14
  15. EThompson Inactive
    EThompson
    @EThompson

    AIG:

    More success leads to more work to maintain it, more worry about losing it, more competition from others who want to “take it away” (in the case of a business).

    Excellent point, but it is far better to have something to protect than nothing at all.

    • #15
  16. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    I find TED talks pretentious. They always seem to be a rich blowhard with grandiose ideas talking to other rich blowhards with grandiose ideas and patting each other on the back for their forward thinking genius-ness. I think it’s easier to be happy and positive when you are already rich and successful. I hate it when ridiculously wealthy people give lectures on happiness and say it’s not about the money. Having money protects you from most of the basic insecurities of life.  Yes, I know money isn’t the key to happiness, but it sure seems to be the key to avoiding unhappiness of the most basic kinds, like putting food on the table and paying the bills.

    • #16
  17. Eeyore Member
    Eeyore
    @Eeyore

    Really?………………..drat.

    [kidding: juuuust playing to form – sorta]

    • #17
  18. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Every time I mention TED Talks, NPR, or modern art, I get condescension. And we wonder why we can’t build bridges in the culture. Best to stick to the echo chamber. Like anything there is good and bad at TED. There have been some talks on autism that have greatly encouraged my family, for instance. There’s liberal drivel that I’ve turned off 5 minutes in. But to dismiss it out if hand? Are we really so close-minded? Maybe we are. So, back to the citing only “acceptable” conservative sources…….

    • #18
  19. CuriousKevmo Member
    CuriousKevmo
    @CuriousKevmo

    I’ve struggled with depression most of my life, had a somewhat rough childhood and frankly for reasons unclear to me, my default reaction is generally negative.  But…I think I’m pretty happy and I find much to be positive about around me.  I have a great home life, a challenging but rewarding job and time to spend on hobbies and things that bring me joy and satisfaction.  I once happiness defined as “a justified and lasting satisfaction of life as a whole”.  I have that.

    I journal positive things every day and I try to send a positive email to one of my employees everday…maybe that is what has helped turn me around.  Dunno.

    • #19
  20. Zafar Member
    Zafar
    @Zafar

    When I was struggling I was told that happiness and sorrow are like birds, they land and stay as long as they will.  So the thing to do is live a life that encourages happiness to land and discourages sorrow as far as possible while accepting that one cannot control their passage. Taking care of practicalities as well as emotional needs is part of making a place welcoming to happiness. Makes sense to me…

    • #20
  21. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    Re: TED, NPR, etc. I naturally disdain things that express disdain for me and my beliefs.  I am turned off by sanctimonious “we’re on the right side of history” types.  I am willing to listen to ideas, but when they are presented with a “listen here, you hick/rube/square…” attitude, I tune out.  That’s the attitude I get from those sources.

    • #21
  22. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Metalheaddoc–yes some of them do have that attitude and I understand your disdain, but not all do. why not listen where we can and meet in places where we share common needs?  Why should they listen to us when we often express that they’re thoughtless and immoral snobs who don’t care about anything but themselves? Maybe we should show ourselves to be the bigger people and look past the stereotypes. Just a thought.

    • #22
  23. profdlp Inactive
    profdlp
    @profdlp

    A TED talk is as good or as bad as the person delivering it and the ideas they are trying to convey.  Dismissing them all out of hand is as silly as treating them all as newly-discovered books of the bible.

    • #23
  24. Annefy Member
    Annefy
    @Annefy

    Gratitude. A necessary ingredient for happiness.

    • #24
  25. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    Debbie Stevens:

    While I do agree that these factors set the stage for a viable pursuit of happiness, they are not the guarantees of happiness.

     There is no guarantee of happiness.

    • #25
  26. user_358258 Member
    user_358258
    @RandyWebster

    D.C. McAllister:

    Meditation (and some would add prayer to this), exercise, which really clears the mind,

    When I exercise, I listen to Ricochet podcasts.  I’m not sure if that clears the mind or not.

    • #26
  27. Dudley Inactive
    Dudley
    @Dudley

    Honestly, 99% of the time I’m ambivalent. I’m neither happy nor unhappy. If pressed I would say I’m content but happiness per se never really enters the picture. Happiness is overrated.

    • #27
  28. Metalheaddoc Member
    Metalheaddoc
    @Metalheaddoc

    I suppose I got burned wasting time with a few socialist-type TED talks and it tainted the whole series. I should be more open minded. Which is my sheepish way of saying “You’re right, D.C.”.

    • #28
  29. genferei Member
    genferei
    @genferei

    Every time I mention TED Talks, NPR, or modern art, I get condescension. And we wonder why we can’t build bridges in the culture. Best to stick to the echo chamber.

    DC, I’m sure you realise it is not you that is being condescended to. Rather it is conservatives reflecting on hard-won experience. I really doubt, however, that failing to engage with the thinking liberal’s Cosmo or TMZ is why “we” can’t build bridges in “the culture”.

    Why should they listen to us when we often express that they’re thoughtless and immoral snobs who don’t care about anything but themselves? 

    Similarly, I really doubt that it is because we often express ourselves thus that they don’t listen to us. They don’t listen to us because they are convinced beyond the need for evidence that it is we who are the thoughtless and immoral snobs who don’t care about anything but ourselves. And why wouldn’t they, because that is the grundnorm of so much of what is on TED and NPR.

    (I’m not sure what your modern art comment is about or why it belongs in this list.)

    • #29
  30. D.C. McAllister Inactive
    D.C. McAllister
    @DCMcAllister

    Genferi–this is something I’ve been wrestling with lately. What you say is true. They think the worst of us and we now think the worst if them. We’re not listening to each other and there are few bridges built. Both sides are guilty. Yet even as I want to build bridges in the culture ( not through political compromise. I’m pretty intransigent when it comes to constitutional conservativism) but in the culture, I am fully aware that there is a war against traditional principles that has moved beyond the culture and is now transforming into policies that are taking away our freedom. I understand the anger. I’m angry. But I feel compelled to reach out where I can and to touch on commonalities where I can. So much power is being gained by the left through the culture. We can’t abandon it and we can’t play into their hands by acting according to the stereotype the have created. I don’t know what to do sometimes. I’m very frustrated.

    • #30
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