on September 16, 2010
I read a lot of business books. Most of them are filled with helpful information. Frankly, most of them are also a little on the dry. "The Happiness Advantage" is different. It is filled with fascinating research and great ideas, and it is also a hoot to read. I found myself laughing out loud as I read the book.
Shawn Achor explains the latest research he and his colleagues in the field of positive psychology have conducted. The results are fascinating:
1) Our brains work better when they are "happy."
2) There are concrete things we can do to make our brains "happier."
3) We can also overcome our inclination to procrastinate and put off these exercises. (I found this section to be particularly interesting since I am a procrastinator).
4) When our brains are at "happy" that positivity will ripple out to others and can raise the productivity.
Give this book a look. The research shows that we (and our colleagues at work) can be more productive. And, if we are "happier" our boss will also perceive us as more positive, trustworthy, sincere and successful. Wow! And who wouldn't want to be happier at work - and at home?
When I was invited to review this book, I must admit I was afraid it would be the standard "happiness" pitch. To my surprise and relief, this book turned out to be truly exceptional, beginning with the author's own story.
To be sure, much of the info in this book will be standard fare for anyone who's familiar with the life coaching industry. However, it's packaged in a way that appeals even to left-brained skeptics like me. The author cites research studies to back up each point. Some of the suggestions were totally new to me, and I thought I was deeply familiar with the field.
Just a few highlights that I enjoyed:
p.55 - Work with a signature strength. This recommendation makes lots of sense to me. The book includes a link to a long online survey; I took the survey and found it surprisingly accurate. I'm a little baffled by the authors suggestion to "use it in a new way each day for a week."
p. 67: I loved the discussion of Ellen Langer's research with "senior" men. Langer asked them to imagine themselves as they'd been 20 years earlier. They improved on physical as well as mental measures.
pp 72-73 - Great discussion of leisure. I really resonated to the notion that we tend to think any non-work activity is worthless. This belief becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
p. 121 - A startling experiment asks people to estimate how "fortunate" they would be if they were wounded in a bank robbery. Great comment about interpretations of Wall Streeters!
p. 139 - Solving small problems can lead to big wins.
p. 163: Add 20 seconds to your day and gain several hours.
Highly recommended. I'm glad I got this book to keep instead of borrowing from the library. I want to read it a few more times.
I've read a lot of "happiness" books and frankly when I chose this book I was a little pessimistic about learning anything new. I couldn't have been more wrong. This book, while building on a lot of prior research, is full of new insights and presentation that is refreshingly insightful and helpful. I learned a lot and it was a compelling and convincing read. There is a wealth of useful and practical takeaways from the material. The author works in the real world and doesn't just write from a position in academia and thus has a lot more practical real-world experience than you often find in these types of books mostly written by psychology professors. I consider this one of the best I've read and I highly recommend it.
Having already read Tal Ben-Shahar's The Pursuit of Perfect: How to Stop Chasing Perfection and Start Living a Richer, Happier Life as well as Jessica Pryce-Jones' Happiness at Work: Maximizing Your Psychological Capital for Success, and having absorbed and digested what their authors share, I was curious to know what (if anything) new Shawn Achor could contribute to the on-going multi-logue and how well the material is organized and presented. My rating correctly indicates what I think he has accomplished. Others have their own reasons for admiring this book. Here are two of mine.
First, Achor introduces seven principles that serve as the foundation of what he characterizes as "the happiness advantage": positive brains have a significant biological advantage over brains that are neutral and an even more substantial biological advantage over brains that are negative. In fact, The Happiness Advantage" also serves as the first principle, followed by
2. The Fulcrum and the Lever: How a positive mindset (fulcrum) can leverage power to achieve success (however defined)
3. The Tetris Effect: How that same positive mindset can recognize can recognize patterns of possibility that leads to possibilities that would otherwise be missed
4. Falling Up: When experiencing a major crisis or encountering a major threat, how selecting the right mental "path" will reveal the best course of action to take
5. The Zorro Circle: When coping with crisis or threat, how to control emotions "by focusing first on small, manageable goals, and then gradually expanding our circle to achieve progressively bigger ones"
6. The 20-Second Rule: When willpower weakens or fails, how to make small adjustments of energy to reroute the path of least resistance with better habits and renewed willpower.
7. The Social Investment: When challenged or threatened, "how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence - our social network support."
These principles guide and inform Achor`s narrative as it proceeds to Part Three when he shares his suggestions about how to spread "the happiness advantage" at work, at home, and beyond.
I also commend Achor on his brilliant analysis of situations with which almost all of his readers can readily identify and then on his equally brilliant explanation of how to take full advantage of such situations by viewing them as opportunities rather than as threats. Almost immediately (in the Introduction, he establishes and then sustain a direct, personal, indeed conversational rapport with his reader. The tone of the narrative is enriched by a spirit I characterize as "There will definitely be some questions to answer and problems to solve but don't worry. Hey, we're in it together." Presumably the rapport that Achor establishes with his reader very closely resembles the rapport he established with Harvard students years ago. That is great news for readers, especially for those who in greatest need of what this book offers.
Almost 20 years ago in an commencement speech at Stanford and then in an article published by Harvard Business Review, Teresa Amabile offered the best career advice I ever heard: Love what you do and do what you love. Perhaps the greatest challenge for any company is to make certain that those who supervise its workers get what they do best and enjoy most in alignment with achieving the company's goals. Recent research studies by highly reputable firms such as Gallup and TowersWatson reveal that happy workers (i.e. who love what they do and do what they love) work harder and smarter, completing their work "faster, better, cheaper."
For business leaders in organizations of which that cannot be said now, Shawn Achor's book is a "must read."
on March 4, 2014
I saw Shawn Anchor's presentation on PBS where he explained a simple 5 minute technique called 'The 3 Gratitudes'.
I was brought up in a culture of pessimism and had 50 years of experience that was so deeply entrenched that I decided that I would be the perfect candidate for experimentation with such a simple exercise.
I've never had much luck trying to change my 'default mode' of negative self-concept (no matter how much therapy I've had or how many self-help books I've read) so I was really on a mission to prove this man and his ideas wrong! I listened to the whole book on tape to make sure I was doing it as explained in the television presentation and this is what I did:
It takes exactly 21 days to create a new neural pathway so you have to do the exercise everyday for 3 weeks. If you skip or forget to do it, you just keep going until you've done the exercise 21 times. If you find you're missing a lot it's just your old self trying to maintain the status quo. Tell yourself that it's less than 5 minutes a day and that you're out to prove the experiment wrong! (if you really find that you're resistant).
You want to find the part of your routine in the morning where you have a moment (well, 5 minutes) (when you're having a cup of tea or coffee for instance). Keep a notebook in that spot (at your desk or kitchen table). You must write out the experiment.
1). THE THREE GRATITUDES: Write down 3 things you are grateful for (no matter how simple or small). At first I could only write about the cup of tea I was drinking! It can be any three things big or small...As you get into this you'll get more creative and become strangely exuberant about what you feel grateful for.
2). THE DOUBLER: Next you want to take one of those three things and elaborate on it a bit (just a few sentences) OR pick a new gratitude to elaborate on. If you have more than a little time, write as much as you like.
3). THREE SMILES: Smile at 3 living creatures today (guys have to be a little careful about this one...ladies, it's easier for you but just be genuine and really smile!). Smile at your doggie, smile at your kitty, co-workers, toll-booth workers, babies, kids, old folks...
4). THE FUN-15: This one is the optional one but will speed up the process: You want to get 15 minutes of fresh air and exercise...a lovely walk with some sunshine if possible (if you're NOT up to this yet, you can add it in after 21 days when you feel better). This can be done at any time of the day, afternoon, evening (separate from the notebook work). If you already work out, you're all set.
5). CONNECT: Connect with one person today. It can even be an electronic connection...so, if you email your Mom or text a friend or your Sister, it still works!
That's all you have to do for 21 days. I started doing this about a year ago last February and after 21 days (I did not skip because I was out to prove the author wrong) I felt better. I felt a lot better. I decided that It had to be the placebo effect so I kept doing this exercise for 3 months! After 3 months I figured there was something to this neural construction thing (or whatever it's called) and I kept doing 'The 3 Gratitudes' straight through till August. I kept waiting for the music to stop but it didn't. In September I decided to experiment and I stopped doing the exercise just to see whether I would go back to default (after 7 months of being a happy, optimistic, creative and grateful person).
It has now been 7 more months of NOT doing The 3 Gratitudes and I've maintained 70-80% of the gain.
This month I have started doing the exercise again just because I WANT that 20% back! The only time I've slipped back into feelings of real pessimism was one week when I had the flu but it lifted as soon as I started recovering. It is interesting to note that the old neural networks still exist and don't go away but if you REPLACE them with better ones you can override the old belief system.
I've told my son, family members and a few friends about this marvelous phenomenon but no one is interested. I'm sharing this because it would be wonderful for me if someone could benefit from trying this too. I think people are reluctant because it sounds so corny! almost unbelievable and possibly outside some imagined comfort zone. All I know is I have a studio full of paintings and I feel kind of like that exuberant art-making kid before anyone told her that her world-view was wrong. If anyone has luck with this please leave me a message...I want to hear! P.S. Thank you Shawn Anchor.
on November 11, 2012
I tend to rate things based on how much I use the book after I read it. I didn't find this book particularly interesting. In the methodology of academics everywhere, the book spends a lot of time promoting its own promises of self-fulfillment (you can change your life! just read this book!), bright orange cover and little or no time actually telling you what to do.
Lots of anecdotes about the author lecturing companies about how happiness changes you for the better. Lots of studies saying happiness makes you more efficient, more effective, more productive, more of a team player, more successful. It's like the difference between a marketing piece and an owner's manual. This is a marketing piece. Lots of verbiage dedicated to how great happiness is and how much it will help you to succeed, complete with studies, research, anecdotes and so forth.
I got to a certain point the in the book where it finally occurred to me. The author has little or nothing to say about what actually to do to achieve these outcomes. This book is all about promotion, more precisely promoting the author's point of view.
On the positive side, the research is right on the money, these principles are correct. But if you were hoping to figure out how to apply them in your life from reading this book, sorry, look somewhere else.
on December 7, 2010
Shawn Achor considers Tal Ben Shahar as a mentor and refers to his groundbreaking book, Happier (Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment) several times in the book. Both are from Harvard and Tal Ben Shahar teaches the famous course on positive psychology there. If you haven't read Happier, it definitely is a great starting point.
While my first impressions of this book were that it is just the same principles packaged differently, I ended up liking this book a lot more than I expected. Happier is very conceptual, while Happiness Advantage is more practical (even if a little formulaic/ prescriptive at times).
Shawn Achor's main contention in the book is that happiness is not an outcome of success but a precursor to success. Happiness causes success, if we focus on being happy, we will achieve more as well.
Another important point brought forward by the book is this: Contrary to popular perception, our natural tendency is not to pursue happiness - our default response is inertia - We continue doing what we are doing even if that won't make us happy (remember the last time you wasted a whole day in front of the television even though you had plans that would have given you more happiness and meaning). This principle is well addressed in Marshall Goldsmith's Mojo (Mojo: How to Get It, How to Keep It, How to Get It Back if You Lose It), a book that I wholeheartedly recommend.
Happiness is not always a function of the situation, our way of looking at the situation is extremely important. Drucker writes (see The Daily Drucker: 366 Days of Insight and Motivation for Getting the Right Things Done) about Stonecutters - when three of them were asked what they think they were doing one replied, "I am making a living", the second replied, "I am doing the best job of stonecutting in the entire country" and the third said, "I am building a cathedral". How you perceive what you do makes a big difference in your happiness levels - a point Shawn brings out very well.
I found the book quite engaging, well researched, well written and extremely useful. I would recommend this to every friend, colleague or a family member.
on May 24, 2013
Mr. Achor repeatedly trumpets his Harvard ties so I wanted to learn more about his background. What I found was both disappointing and quite surprising. Mr. Achor refers repeatedly but obliquely to his decade of "research at harvard" and implies that he has scientifically proved that happiness leads to success, while leaning heavily on the harvard name to lend credibility to his claims. Yet for all the pages spent on chummy stories about harvard, he never actually gets around to telling us, specifically, what research he did, how he did it, or what the data revealed. A casual reader might not even notice that sleight of hand. He just refers to it in generalities. Ok. Let's search Google Scholar to see what Mr. Achor has published on the link between happiness and success. Surprise! There are zero publications. Mr. Achor has never published a single solitary scientific paper in his life! At this point I'm feeling just plain lied to.
How could this guy be a Harvard professor? Well, a quick search of the internet tells us that Shawn is not and never was a harvard professor, and has no current affiliation to harvard at all. In fact, he seems to use every trick he can to get us to think he's a famous and popular professor without ever quite claiming that he is (I'm guessing Harvard's lawyers would have a field day with him otherwise, or maybe they already have). He's treading a very careful and deceptive line to inflate his qualifications far beyond the reality. He *was* once a student at Harvard (it looks like he got a master's degree in divinity -- not a science, the last time I checked). Even the lowliest faculty job at a mediocre university (much less Harvard) would require a PhD, which Shawn does not have. Shawn refers obliquely in his book to his decade of "research at harvard" but, as I noted above, if you search Google Scholar, you will see he has never published any credible scientific research at all. Zero. Nothing. It is unclear whether he has ever had any scientific training of any kind, or if his "research" involved anything other than sitting around in his dorm room. He says he is a "harvard-trained researcher" but a master's in divinity isn't scientific training and, again, there is no record of his participation in any actual research and no mention of the actual scientists he worked with. He certainly hasn't done any credible scientific research proving that "happiness leads to success." What he does appear to have done, and I say this as a petty, jealous graduate student scraping by on a tiny stipend, is make a lot of money. Selling himself as a harvard scientist (which he is not), he appears to charge huge speaking fees (as in, more for one speech than I make in a year) to hear about his "research." That sounds to me like someone chasing success, not happiness. I am hugely sympathetic to the ideas this book contains, but given how much the author is distorting his own qualifications for personal gain I worry that he is distorting the science as well.
UPDATE in response to comments:
I agree completely. If he had just let the content speak for itself, I would have no complaints. Plenty of people without special qualifications write decent books. The book is easy to read, easy to understand, and has useful points even if I don't find much of it to be truly new. Based on the average review here on Amazon, people seem to feel like they are getting value out of it. That's great.
With the way he harps on harvard over and over, and implies that he is a famous and popular professor at harvard who has done legitimate scientific research, however, it just feels slimy to me and like he is trying to fool his readers. It sounds like you have confirmation from connections at harvard that he is inflating his qualifications. Very interesting.
I can assure you that I have read the book quite carefully. If I ignore the author's self-inflation, it's largely a decent book. If you're asking me to evaluate the content of the book, I will admit that I do find much of Happiness Advantage to be fairly derivative once I scratch below the surface. That's actually why I bothered to look into Mr. Achor's qualifications in the first place. I was expecting a harvard professor to be talking about his cool original research that I wouldn't have heard about elsewhere, but then I read through the whole book and realized that even though he kept referring to his research he never actually presented ANY data from his own original research. That seemed fishy to me, and so I bothered to look into who this guy was, and my review is the result.
The overall narrative is novel -- happiness is the key to success (but success doesn't make you happy). I don't know enough to determine if he's correct, but it's an interesting idea. But once you get to the supporting details, it's largely (though certainly not entirely) a rehash of other people's ideas. No other book talks about the "Zorro Circle," but plenty of books talk about starting daunting tasks with small doable steps (the same thing but without the fancy name). Plenty of books talk about the power of habits in determining our behavior or the value of social relationships for happiness. Mr. Achor even talks in the book about reading other books to get content for his book. But whether the ideas are derivative doesn't matter if the ideas are new to you. The content of lots of books are derivative and people still read them and get value from them. Heck, there is value is hearing the same idea a bunch of times because maybe, eventually, it will really sink in. In any event, the author does a good job communicating these ideas, and his overarching narrative is more original. If it weren't for the dishonesty, I'd probably give the content of the book 3 stars. It's not terribly original, but it's well-written, practical, and a quick, easy read.
I just think he's being dishonest about his qualifications and the basis for his ideas in order to sell more books and charge higher speaking fees. It rubs me the wrong way and I think his readers are getting tricked, as are the companies that are paying big money to hear him speak about his "research." What's sad is that it's unnecessary and I think the deception will catch up with him eventually. For better or worse, there are plenty of authors who write bestsellers without any real qualifications, and they don't feel the need to lie about it.
If you can find any actual evidence that Mr. Achor (a) has a PhD (b) has ever been the actual instructor for a class at Harvard -- i.e., the one actually teaching the class, not just a teaching assistant (c) conducted ANY peer-reviewed scientific research that is cited in Happiness Advantage or (d) was ever a Professor at Harvard, I will stand corrected. Mr. Achor may have done a good job in making you think that some or all of these things are true, but if you dig a little deeper I think you will find that they are all false.
@MM of FS
I appreciate your weighing in. I think your comments will help us all be clearer about Shawn's credentials are and are not. As I stated in my original review, Shawn was a harvard student -- an undergraduate student and then a master's student in divinity. And, as is clear in reading his book and on the internet but I should have made clearer in my review - he was a teaching fellow for a psychology class at harvard. That's all fine so far, and true as far as I know; I have no reason to doubt it. Shawn was clearly at Harvard - he isn't making EVERYTHING up. Check.
However, those things aren't what I find dishonest about how Shawn represents his credentials and I think he has managed to pull the wool over your eyes as well. Reading Shawn's book it sounds like he is a harvard professor who conducted legitimate scientific research about happiness and performance.
Shawn was NOT the instructor/professor for the positive psychology course (it was Tal Ben-Shahar -- see his interview on the Daily Show about it, for example).
I see no record that Shawn has ever been the instructor for any class at harvard. He was a teaching fellow (what harvard calls their teaching assistants), but that's not remotely the same thing. Professors at a place like Harvard/Yale/Stanford/etc are world-class leaders in their fields, whereas teaching assistants are usually graduate students in the subject (sometimes someone who graduated college just a year earlier).
Shawn was NEVER a professor at harvard
Shawn did NOT receive a PhD from harvard or anywhere else -- the minimum requirement for being an actual professor and, usually (but not always), for conducting original scientific research.
I can find no record of any actual scientific training Shawn received. I don't know what his undergraduate degree was in, but a master's degree in divinity is not scientific training.
Shawn did NOT conduct ANY peer-reviewed research whatsoever contained in the book The Happiness Advantage. He talks over and over and over again all about his "research" but I can find no record of any peer-reviewed research he conducted anywhere in the book. If you can find citations for peer-reviewed research Shawn led that is contained in the book The Happiness Advantage, please tell us all the page numbers where we can dig into the details of his alleged scientific research. As far as I can tell, there are ZERO. Heck, I'd be happy to see some graphs of actual data he collected, even if they aren't peer reviewed.
So, in short, I'm not saying Shawn is completely lying about his connection to Harvard. But I think he is taking tiny morsels of truth (undergrad student and divinity master's student at harvard, teaching assistant) and grossly exaggerating them to mislead his readers to think he is/was a professor at harvard, that he is a legitimate and trained scientist, and that he performed legitimate scientific research to produce the book The Happiness Advantage. He seems to do everything he can to conceal these facts from the reader and to inflate his own importance and qualifications. It's dishonest and I think readers deserve to know the facts.
on July 6, 2011
Back in 2001, while working for Borders, we had Marcus Buckingham come in to speak about his new book, Now Discover Your Strengths. In preparation for his talk, I took the Gallup StrengthsFinder assessment for the first time. Positivity came up as one of my top strengths and it wasn't a surprise to me, as I've always looked at "the glass as being half-full". That said, I'd never given it much thought as a strength and only thought of it as a characteristic of my personality. In reading Shawn Achor's new book, The Happiness Advantage, I've realized that this "strength" is actually a key ingredient to the success I've experienced over the years. In this great book, Shawn leverages years of Harvard studies and research projects to introduce us to the latest findings in the field of "Positive Psychology." He shares with us seven very practical principles that will directly fuel individual and team success and performance at work.
At the core of Positive Psychology is the finding that "happiness leads to success in nearly every domain, including work, health, friendship, sociability, creativity and energy." It is the finding of positive psychology that success is a direct result of happiness and that the age old belief that happiness orbits around success is actually wrong and individuals who think they have to find success to be happy actually have it backwards. After presenting us with the facts that show negativity has a direct correlation to poor success and true success can be tied to happiness, Shawn then gives us seven principles that will help us be more positive both inside and outside of the workplace.
I won't spoil the book by going through the seven principles, but I will share some quotes from the book;
* "..the more you believe in your own ability to success, the more likely it is that you will." Pg 74
* "Beliefs are so powerful because they dictate our efforts and actions." Pg 77
* "Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts are creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals." Pg 91
* "Optimism, it turns out, is a tremendously powerful predictor of work performance." Pg 98
* "The key is not to completely shut out all of the bad, all of the time, but to have a reasonable, realistic, healthy sense of optimism." Pg 104
* "The best leaders are the ones who show their true colors not during the banner years, but during times of struggle." Pg 120
* "One of the biggest drivers of success is the belief that our behavior matters; that we have control over our future." Pg 129
* "Knowledge is only part of the battle. Without action, knowledge is often meaningless." Pg 146
* "Habits are like financial capital - forming one today is an investment that will automatically give out returns for years to come." Pg 148
* "When we encounter an unexpected challenge of threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go." Pg 173
* "The most successful people I've worked with know that even in an extraordinarily competitive environment, we are more equipped to handle challenges and obstacles when we pool the resources of those around us and capitalize on even the smallest moments we spend interacting with each other." Pg 183
* "Studies show that the more team members are encouraged to socialize and interact face-to-face, the more engaged they feel, the more energy they have, and the longer they can stay focused on a task." Pg 185
* "The people who actively invest in their relationships are the heart and should of a thriving organization, the force that drives their teams forward." Pg 187
* "Studies have found that the strength of the bond between manager and employee is the prime predictor of both daily productivity and the length of time people stay at their jobs." Pg 189
* "The best leaders give their employees the space and time to let moments of social connection develop on their own." Pg 193
* "Smiling tricks your brain into thinking you're happy, so it starts producing the neurochemicals that actually do make you happy." Pg 206
* "Each one of us is like that butterfly (the Butterfly Effect). And each tiny move toward a more positive mindset can send ripples of positivity through our organizations, our families, and our communities." Pg 210
The Happiness Advantage was easy to read and it is filled with great stories and examples from both Shawn's personal life as well as various research studies from other psychologists involved in Positive Psychology. While some business and psychology texts can be technical and boring, I found The Happiness Advantage to be insightful, practical, easy to read and light reading. It is was compelling and I would recommend it to anyone. We read the book as a team at work and we all came away with a number of changes and reminders that were directly applicable to our team.
I'd highly recommend as a teambuilding book to read as a group.
on April 28, 2013
This book contains some good advice about cultivating a grateful attitude, but it takes so long to get to the point that it's not enjoyable to read. From the other reviews, I gather that there are many better books on positive psychology available.