The Happiness Advantage Notes
I’m going to read a large number of books this year. While I won’t write summaries for every book, I will for my favorites. These notes are enough to counteract my tendency to forget all about the main points within a week.
In a Nutshell
Positive psychology (combined with other mental tactics) results in success.
Well, there you go. I guess you don’t have to read the book now. Unless you want to know the nitty-gritty details, in which case, carry on.
But first, what did I think of the book in general? Below is the “review” portion of my notes.
- Shawn Achor is an American author, and speaker known for his advocacy of positive psychology. (that sentence was stolen from Wikipedia.) I was afraid the book would be as dry as a saltine cracker, but Achor writes with an engaging tone. Makes sense, he is a public speaker by trade.
- I noticed that each chapter features an engaging hook to draw you in. Do you want to hear about the time he was surrounded by flames and lost? Read Chapter 7.
- Information from the books Flow, The Tipping Point, The Toyota Way, A Guide to the Good Life (in Chapter 5), Good to Great, and Atomic Habits (in Chapter 6) are alluded to throughout the book.
- I respect that Achor first tells why you should do something, then how to do it.
What I learned
Introduction: Happy people enjoy improved health, happiness, and success over their average peers. Unhappy people feel helpless. Thankfully, modern research says that happiness levels are not genetically fixed from person to person.
Principle 1, The Happiness Advantage:
Everyone assumes that success brings happiness, but science says it goes the other way around. How can you decide to feel happier?
- Find something to look forward to (often more fun that actually going through with that activity.)
- Carry out intentional acts of kindness
- Infuse positivity into your surroundings with pictures of loved ones, a tidy room, or your favorite colors.
- Spend money on experiences rather than material possessions.
- Exercise a signature strength.
Principle 2, The Fulcrum and the Lever:
As an extension of Principle 2, this principle is about leveraging your positive mindset to take advantage of opportunities and success. A negative mindset artificially holds you back, while a positive one propels you forward. Mindset is how you exercise leverage over your life.
Principle 3, The Tetris Effect:
We focus on what we’re familiar with. Gamers who played Tetris on their phone couldn’t stop visualize the game at all hours of the day. When you buy a new car, suddenly every driver in town has that same car, not to mention the same paint color. This is because your brain is designed to focus on what it recognizes and it virtually ignores everything else. This means that whenever we try to focus on positivity, gratitude, and opportunities, we will see them everywhere. Staying blind to all problems is an unrealistic business plan, so the author suggests running a business with rose-tinted glasses, not rose-colored glasses. In other words: Stay aware of major problems but focus on the positives.
Principle 4, Falling Up:
Use failure as an opportunity to grow. It sounds like a cheesy poster, but has some ground in reality. During economic depressions, companies have become more efficient to accommodate the lack of financial resources. Now that the depression is over, they couldn’t imagine operating in the previous way. Some people see failure as the end of the world, others see it as an opportunity to get better. An insurance company, MetLife, optimized for optimism when hiring, and saw a significant decrease in employee turnover. Use your ABCD’s to evaluate failure or adversity. Adversity (some versions say activating event or assessing the situation) triggers the process. Ask what is your Belief about this negative event? Consequence: If my belief is accurate, what will be the consequence? (This step often shows you that the consequence isn’t as world-ending as you thought.) Finally, disputation (or dispute) that belief and consequence. Is this a realistic picture? What are some other interpretations of the outcome?
Principle 5, The Zorro Circle:
The legendary hero Zorro learned everything he knew about fighting by practicing in a small circle against his mentor. After he mastered fighting in the circle, he practiced other skills, one at a time, until he finally mastered the art of fighting. This circle metaphor has two applications.
- We should only worry about our circle of direct control. Write down everything you are worried about, then sort the items into columns, some under your direct control, and some not under your direct control. Then do your best to let the second column go. Just focus on making the first column go as smoothly as you can. If you believe you have control over your job or live than you have an advantage. Interestingly enough, studies show that workers don’t actually need control over their job, they just need to think that they do. If you have control over a situation or job, even if you just think you do, you are more likely to succeed.
- Additionally, small circles represent a way to change your habits. By drawing small “circles” and changing one small thing at a time, you are more likely to succeed. Start by running laps every day, not running 10 miles. Start by cleaning up one corner of the room and keeping it tidy, not by organizing the entire space. In The Tipping Point (Malcom Gladwell), city officials prioritized cleaning up graffiti, a relatively small problem, and watched crime and vandalism rates plummet.
Principle 6, The 20 Second Rule:
Not to be confused with the
- 2 Minute Rule (scale complex habits down into a 2 minute version.)
- The other 2 Minute Rule (anything you can do in 2 minutes you might as well do right away.) Who names these things?
- The 1 percent rule (maintaining a 1 percent advantage over the competition means that you will reap nearly all the rewards, basically a winner-take all effect). The idea is that you should put 20 seconds of effort between you and your bad habits. Watch too much TV? Hide the batteries in the closet. Sure it won’t be that hard to get the batteries out, but it will be easier to do something more fun (and rewarding) than binging Netflix. (Side note: mindless use of both TV and social media isn’t as fun as people think. It might be passively rewarding or entertaining for about 30 minutes, then it just sucks the life out of you.) Check email too often? Hide your email shortcut on the your computer, then hide the shortcut inside of 3 empty folders. Now you can check your email by digging around, but you’ll have to want it. No more mindless email distracting you, now get back to work. This also works in reverse for good habits, just remove 20 seconds from the time necessary to start the good habit. Shawn Achor wanted to start playing the guitar, so he took his guitar out the closet and set it out in an obvious location on a $2 guitar stand. Now, instead of spending 20 seconds digging through his closet, he could just start playing right away. He then practiced guitar for many days straight, instead of letting the habit lapse.
Principle 7, Social Investment:
Achor learned from firefighter training, that you need to stick with your partner to succeed. Yes there are introverts and extroverts, but humans literally cannot function properly without social connections. He observed from his time at Harvard that the students who worked alone felt stressed, while students that studied together, succeeded together. Even when the groups of students started procrastinating and playing board games, they still performed better academically. Our culture suggests that we should “go it alone” but the greatest minds in history needed the help of others. Thomas Edison invented the lightbulb with the help of 30 assistants. Although it’s tempted to let social interactions slide, they are a key to our success, and thus needs to be a priority.
Thanks for reading this far. This summary took a while to make, but I’m happy with how it turned out. If you want to read more from me, why not subscribe to the RSS feed?