The Happiness Advantage

By Kelley King

Does success bring happiness or does happiness bring success?

I enjoyed reading this book, The Happiness Advantage, recently and wanted to share a few important takeaways. The author, Shawn Achor, makes a compelling case that it is the latter – Happy people are more likely to be successful in life. While we all have stress in our lives, the big differentiator between happy and unhappy people is how they interpret life events.

Here’s an example: A recent study showed that four out of five Harvard students suffer from depression. Many of the Harvard students said that their unhappiness and depression are caused by their schoolwork. Compare this to students in Soweto, Africa where the vast majority of students report that their school work is “delightful” and a positive factor in their lives; that it is both challenging and a privilege.

How might our own students turn down the dial on anxiety and stress about school? How can we help them reframe the hard work of learning as “challenging” versus too hard or stressful? To see school as a “privilege” instead of a burden?

Studies show that when we have a positive mindset, we are actually smarter, more motivated, and end up having more success. Quite simply, if you are happy, you’ll score better on that math test!

Here are some tips for bringing more happiness (and success) into all of our lives:

  • Do positivity exercises. Close your eyes, calm your breathing and think about good things that happened to you. You can also think about something you are looking forward to. Just thinking about an upcoming vacation can raise your endorphin levels by 27%.

  • Choose positive, squeeze out negative. Your brain cannot focus on both negative and positive at the same time. It has to choose. So why not frame things in a positive light? Thinking positively will result in greater levels of happiness. The more you believe in your success, the more successful you’ll be.

  • Practice “falling up.” We are all going to fall down at times. But pushing yourself back up (falling up) does lead to more happiness and success. Use setbacks as motivators to double your efforts, not as a reason to give up.

  • Put negative thoughts into words. Research shows that writing down negative thoughts can actually diminish their power over the brain. Then determine which things you can control and which you can’t. Focus your energy where you have some control.

  • Express your gratitude to others. Having strong social bonds is highly correlated to happiness levels. Telling others what you appreciate about them is one of the best ways to build interpersonal bonds.

In closing, the butterfly effect is the notion that a butterfly flapping its wings can create a hurricane on the other side of the world. Each of us is like the butterfly. If you feel anxious, it is likely that your co-workers and children will feel anxious. Choosing happiness, on the other hand, can positively change the dynamics of a whole group – whether that is at home, work or school.

Perhaps the lyrics “Don’t worry, be happy” are more than just an excuse to dance. They may just be the ultimate key to success in life!

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