Happiness and success.
We are all gallivanting as swiftly as we know how to in the pursuit of these things, while at the same time trying to realize what they actually mean to us.
Some days we have the energy to sprint towards these ideals, others we jog. Some days we’re stumbling a bit, and others it can feel like we’re crawling. Cest La vie. Whatever the case may be, the pursuit of happiness and success doesn’t always feel so happy and rewarding.
Luckily, there are people like Shawn Achor, who dedicated his pursuit in life to studying human potential at Harvard. He realized that despite being granted the prestige of getting an Ivy League education, Harvard students weren’t the happiest bunch of brains around, so he dug into the details. He’s researched and lectured in 42 countries to find how happiness and performance are linked and how we can simplify our ways to lead happier and more fulfilling lives.
In his book The Happiness Advantage, he narrowed his research down to seven basic principles universally applicable to anyone on the pursuit of happiness.
1. The Happiness Advantage
“Because positive brains have a biological advantage over brains that are neutral or negative, this principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance.”
In the 1500s it was a common belief that the earth was the center of the universe and the sun revolved around us. Similarly, it was a common belief that our happiness revolved around our success – that we would become happier if we achieved more. Positive psychology and the happiness advantage instead say that it’s the other way around. Achievement and success revolves around our happiness and comes as a result of that happiness. The happier we are, the more apt we are to bigger success and higher achievement. Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future. We can achieve that by putting a focus on what we have rather than what we do not have. In terms of sacrifice, what we are getting rather than what we are giving up. That will give us the creativity to turn what we do have into whatever we want.
2. The Fulcrum and the Lever
“How we experience the world and our ability to succeed within it, constantly changes based on our mindset.”
Think of a sea-saw. One one side is a bag of 10 bricks, on the other is a bag of 5. The lever will weigh down towards the bag of 10 bricks unless you move the fulcrum away from the center so that the two sides level out. Achor explains that our minds can work the same way. If we can shift our mindset to focus more on the positives of our lives, then we will feel much more balanced and able to move forward.
3. The Tetris Effect
“When our brains get stuck in a pattern that focuses on stress, negativity, and failure, we set ourselves up to fail… We can retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility rather than failure so that we can see and seize opportunity wherever we look.”
What we focus on expands into all areas of our lives. A study was conducted where the researches paid people to play Tetris for multiple hours a day, 3 days in a row. After this, the people couldn’t stop dreaming about falling blocks and arranging them perfectly. They would see blocks everywhere in their waking hours and their minds had started to turn everything they saw into a game of tetris – bookcases, the furniture in the room, the cars on the road, whatever have you.
Similarly, if we’re always focusing on how broke we are or how crippled by our circumstances we are, we’ll only fall into more problems. But, if we focus on the positive aspects of life, we’ll be open to more opportunity that we would’ve otherwise been completely blind to.
4. Falling Up
“In the midst of defeat, stress and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope. We can find the mental path that not only leads us up out of failure or suffering, but teaches us to be happier and more successful because of it.”
Falling up is based on the concept that struggle in life is inevitable and mistakes or failure are just part of the process. They’re learning cures and building blocks to success. So when we feel as if we’re falling down, we’re at least making progress, we’re falling up. Many call it growing pains.
5. The Zorro Circle
“When challenges loom and we get overwhelmed, our rational brains can get hijacked by emotions. We can regain control by focusing first on small, manageable goals, and then gradually expanding our circle to achieve bigger and bigger goals.”
In the Legend of Zorro, before this man becomes the chandelier-swinging, villain-defeating hero that he is, he is an unfocused drunk. It’s not until he is put into training that he realizes his full potential. At the start of his training, his elder draws a small circle in the ground and allows him to only fight within that circle. This principle is all about discipline, focus, and being patient with the time it takes to master something and how important it is to be able to set manageable goals.
6. The 20-Second Rule
“Sustaining lasting change often feels impossible because our willpower is limited. And when willpower fails, we fall back on our old habits and succumb to the path of least resistance. We can make small energy adjustments, we can reroute the path of least resistance and replace bad habits with good ones.”
We are what we repeatedly do. Knowing something is good or bad for you will not make changing habits easier. Smokers know that it’s terrible for their health, yet most can’t kick the habit. Most people break their New Year resolutions by February. This principle focuses on teaching that replacing a bad habit with a good one just 20 seconds a day for an extended amount of time will kick the bad habit. When negative thoughts enter, we have to train our minds to replace them with positive ones.
7. Social Investment
“In the midst of challenges and stress, some people choose to hunker down and retreat within themselves. But, the most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward. This principle teaches us how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence – our social support network.”
The human mind does weird things under extreme pressure, stress, anxiety, or disappointment. We feel weak and the first thing the ego in all of us wants to do is act out, or walk away. This principle teaches us that these are the moments when we need our team and social support the most. If we can create an environment of mutual trust and respect where individuals can come together in the midst of challenge with no hesitation, we can have a much higher success rate in both our personal and professional lives.
Once we can adopt these principles into our own lives, we subconsciously spread the habits to those around us, thus creating an environment fine tuned for fulfillment.