Many of us chase Success in order to become happy and fulfilled. The formula that was taught by schools, parents, the company we work for, or society says ‘If you work hard, you will be successful and then you will be happy.’ Almost two decades of research indicates this isn’t true.
Putting on a happy face is not what we are talking about here. Happiness is “learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviors that have been proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment. It is a work ethic.” (Shawn Achor in The Happiness Advantage) Imagine! Happiness being a work ethic!
Not only does being happy improve relationships, performance, your health, and enables you to live longer, but it causes success and achievement. You’ve heard of the flight or fight response. Positive Psychology research has found that happiness has an evolutionary contribution that is called “Broaden and Build” (instead of shrink, freeze or flee). When our mindset or mood is positive we are more motivated, more creative, smarter, and more successful.
Negative emotions narrow our options and actions. Positive emotions opens us up to possibilities, allows us to think more creatively, become more motivated, and open to new ideas. “They help us build more intellectual, social, and physical resources we can rely on in the future (Achor).” Not only can we think better, we can also see more!!!!! We can physically see more, process more visual stimulation, and actually expand our peripheral vision when we have a positive mindset, or a burst of positive emotion. This is powerful data! I’ve been saying on this blog that scarcity consciousness contracts and optimism and thriving helps us expand. Now data shows that it actually does exactly that.
A couple of examples. Students who were told to think of the happiest days of their lives just before an exam out performed those people who didn’t think positive thoughts. A study using experienced doctors looking at descriptions of symptoms were able to get to an accurate diagnosis twice as fast as the control group. The thing that made them happy? They were given a piece of candy for no reason (but did not eat it) just before starting their analysis.
Guess what else it does? Positive emotions help undo stress and anxiety! This allows us to improve our focus, and function at a higher ability. If you are needing to perform for example on a presentation thinking of successful times that you have already presented, or imagining your presentation going well, or watching a video that uplifts you or gives you a smile, will allow you to make a better presentation.
When we give ourselves quick positive boosts, we can function better in the moment. When we do this over time, we raise our baseline of happiness. What we want to do is develop a list of activities, thoughts that can give us a quick boost, or remember times that makes us smile. A short humorous video clip, listening to a favorite song, petting your dog, having a quick conversation with a friend, cleaning your bathroom or kitchen, are things you might do to lift your spirits and give yourself an enormous boost in performance.
Shawn Achor gives a list of suggested things to do which give us a quick boost of positive emotions which can help us change and lift our mindset. Over time, if we do this, we raise our happiness set point.
- Find Something to Look forward to. (Put something on your calendar that you can have the pleasure of anticipating.
- Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness (giving to friends and or strangers decreases stress and raises your mood)
- Put things in your surroundings that bring you pleasure – like pictures of family near your computer at work.
- Spending time outside improves your mood, improves working memory, and broadens your thinking.
- Perhaps watching less TV, especially violent media. Psychologists have found that people who watch less TV are more accurate judges of risks and rewards, because they are less likely to see sensationalized or one-sided sources of information.
- Exercise. One study show that 3 groups of depressed people were studied. One was given antidepressants, and the second group was asked to exercise 45 minutes 3 times a week, and the third was a combination of both. All 3 groups showed similar improvements after 4 months. After 6 months, of the medication alone group, 38% had relapsed back into depression. The exercise only group only had a relapse factor of 9%. Exercise any way you want, because it gives you a long lasting effect.
- Go to activities like concerts, group dinners out or spend money on someone else.
- Exercise a Signature Strength. We are all good at a number of things. Whenever we do the things that we are good at, we experience a boost of positivity. You can take a survey at www.viasurvey.org to find out what your top five strengths are. The 24 character strengths that are assessed are the ones most contributing to human flourishing.
- While Achor did not list this, two posts ago, I listed writing into your book of positive aspects as something to do at the beginning of each day. Today, I am amending that to make a list of recent things that have made your smile or feel really good. And keep adding to it, because when you are not happy, you will not remember these things.
My friend Nisha told me today that our brains are wired to loop again and again with a playlist of how to stay safe (from our survival training of watch out for bears, lions, and tigers, or falling off cliffs). Smiles, and positive thoughts don’t make that playlist. That is why we have to consciously choose to reach for better feeling thoughts and experiences. I am hunching that this is what Dr. Achor meant when he suggest happiness is a work ethic.
So I was feeling down when I started reading The Happiness Advantage, and was so refreshed to read about the research that shows how remarkably reaching for a better feeling thought, a better feeling experience helps us to be successful in our lives, in our relationships, in our work, in our performance, in our earning ability. Being conscious about where we are emotionally pays great dividends.