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The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life Paperback – June 5, 2018
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"Shawn Achor is funny, self-deprecating, and devastating to my notions of what his field is all about. . . . I'm butter to his knife."—The Boston Globe
"Achor bases his training on a burgeoning body of research on the positive psychology movement, which emphasizes instilling resiliency and positive attitudes."—The Wall Street Journal
About the Author
Shawn Achor is one of the world’s leading experts on happiness, success, and potential. His research has graced the cover of Harvard Business Review, and his TED Talk is one of the most popular of all time, with more than 15 million views. Shawn spent twelve years at Harvard before bringing this research to nearly half the Fortune 100, as well as places like the Pentagon, impoverished schools in Africa, and the White House. His research has also been published in top psychology journals and featured in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, and Fortune. His interview with Oprah Winfrey and his PBS program have been seen by millions. He now serves on the World Happiness Council and continues his research.
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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.
I read approximately 10-15 new books per year. This is the best book I've read in the past year. I am still working to implement many different aspects, but it's truly changing my life for the better.
One example is expressing 3 things I'm grateful for each day, along with one specific direct gratitude directed toward an individual. This one area has changed not only my life in a very positive way, but has also greatly improved happiness in the lives of those around me.
Given the time, I'd go on and on...but I'll leave it at this: well worth the time and money.
Oh, if you're on the fence still...go look up the TED talk on YouTube. It's only 12 minutes, and it perfectly captures the tone of the book. The book just goes into far far more depth.
For me, I have studied a variety of therapeutic concepts that talk about if we change the way we look at things, we can change our emotions and behaviors. CBT, DBT, and Solution Focused approaches hone in on what we need to focus on and what we need to ignore. Positive Psychology is frequently viewed as a fluffy practice within the field of counseling meaning there isn’t much substance to it. Most therapists, myself included, have discounted the practices of positive psychology because we don’t talk about what is wrong rather than talk about what is right.
Shawn’s book has convinced me to start adding positive psychology into my practice of my own life and into my counseling. He teaches practical skills that as they are applied can change the way you feel and act. Not only does he teach those basic practices but he also talks about ways to apply those skills so that you can consistently keep them apart of your life. Even as I started to go through this book, I noticed myself feeling more optimistic and more creative throughout my day. These practices make a huge difference.
Finally, I would say that Shawn likes to have a lot of research in his book. He spends the first few chapters citing research and experiences. For those who do not find that helpful or interesting, you can easily skip those sections and move towards the basic skills.
I highly recommend this book to those who are wanting to be happy regardless of their “success.”
Top international reviews
Ahem, well, actually this book will change your life if you let it. Building on the work of Martin Seligman at Penn State University, Shawn Achor is one of the new young turks in psychology taking the findings of positive psychology and applying them to business and everyday life. These ideas are quite revolutionary, as is the whole of positive psychology predicated as it is on using what we know about our brains to enable us to use them more effectively. Before positive psychology came along, the psychological effort of humanity was focused Eeyore like on the negative side of our mental lives, exploring all of the things that could go wrong with the complex human mind. Mental illness and psychology were basically synonyms, with the medical disciplines fetishising when brains go wrong over applying its understandings in a more balanced, life-affirming way. Positive psychology restores that balance, acknowledging that there's a lot we can do in weeding our own mental garden in a manner that means we live as happy a life as possible. In fact, the premise of Shawn's wonderful book is that - happiness doesn't follow success, it is the other way round. We are, Achor says (and he backs his assertions up with buckets of evidence and examples) more likely to be successful when we are positive and happy - up to 30% more successful - because brains in a positive state are more imaginative, responsive and flexible.
The book contains 7 basic principles which Achor calls the Happiness Advantage. He is a persuasive and entertaining writer and public speaker, his TED talk is here and as you can see his work is gaining a lot of attention (12 million hits and counting). The principles range from considering our everyday interactions with people through to re-setting our negative defaults to sift the environment for positive things that if our moods instead of simply worrying about what might or mightn't happen in the future. I have a copy of this book and also an audio-copy which I use in work and with some of the people I support.
The book is replete with fantastic insights and ideas. The 7 principles being;
1. The Happiness Advantage - Being happy gives you an edge or an advantage in terms of achieving success so happiness should be our focus, not success. Achor calls this the Copernican revolution in psychology, happiness leading to success instead of the mistaken beliefs we have about success making us happy.
2. The Fulcrum and the Lever - Re-calibrating our mental responses toward the positive will move our internal psychological fulcrum giving us much greater leverage with a brain singing with positive neurotransmitters rather than one paralysed by negativity, doubt and worry.
3. The Tetris Effect - Basically, this is neuroplasticity (the tendency of the human brain to change and adapt neural networks dependent on what we are doing) in action, we are what we repeatedly do. If we play Tetris for long enough everything block-like in the real-world can appeal to our Tetris habituated brain as a shape within the remit of the game and we can find ourselves trying to fit blocks together out in the real-world, blocks made of fences, walls, buildings or bricks just we happen to be passing. If we tip of brains response towards the positive we will see opportunity and creativity where before we might have seen challenge and stress. (On this point Kelly McGonigal in her wonderful TED talk makes a similar point.)
4. Falling Up - This is a fascinating chapter all about how we can reset our daily to defaults to maximise our happiness experiences, such pearls of wisdom here. Quick happiness wins we can all build into our daily experience to lift our subjective experience toward the positive.
5. The Zorro Circle - This is about being very clear and focused about what you want to achieve everyday and ensuring you do your very best by building the skills which enable you to achieve those daily goals.
6. The 20 Second Rule - This takes forward the examples from Principle 4 and gives many examples of how we can prime our default responses to ensure we overcome any inertia around changing bad habits, for example, if we want to jog first thing in the morning, go to bed wearing Gym clothes.
7 - Social Investment - As social animals this principle acknowledges the importance of making strong, supportive connections with others (colleagues and friends) in ensuring we maximise our happiness.
All in all one of the best development, self-help books I've read in a while. Heartily recommended and I will be spending several years implementing its suggestions in terms of leading and managing successful teams at my work-place and convincing colleagues to do the same.
***** (Five Stars)
After watching Shawn Achor on TED I was enthusiastic about the book. But, after initial feelings of excitement and positivity I felt a little bit of disappointment as all seemed like an unending introduction.
Too Few tips on How to gain the skills/States And too many examples. Everything becomes a blur after a while.
A summary page/ graph/table with the principles and tips could be useful. And I believe the author will make up for it at one point. Therefore five stars.
he is a great mind and he is onto something.
Shawn re-iterates that ‘happiness is not just a mood – it’s a work ethic’. His research has found that we can train/use our brain to change how we process the world and, that in turn, changes how we react to it. The most successful people, either in their work or life in general, believe that their actions have a direct impact of their eventual outcomes.
The more I think about it, the more the book makes sense. Instead of trying to ‘become successful’, try becoming happy right now so you can become successful later.
Many of our course attendees have said that this book was extremely helpful!
I encourage everyone who finds themselves with this book, to read it and enjoy it, and then act out the experience of it. Great job.
Also personally very happy as this book demonstrates how the models from NLP are backed up by findings from positive psychology and neuroscience.
Thanks Shawn. Really enjoyed your book
Think in a positive is one the best think you can do for your mind to have a better life.
It's a nice and easy read and it might convince yourself as well. Think +++