“Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work” by Shawn Achor

Happiness first before success instead of the success first then success, the author advocated. The author’s own perspective on being privileged to attend Harvard makes his Harvard experience all the more productive and enjoyable. This paved the way for the author to look for what makes us successful – by being happy. The author, Shawn Achor, peppered throughout the book his life experience in additional to actual psychology studies with lots of humor, making the book a joy to read. The seven principles are easy to understand and in a way common known wisdom. What stands out for me are the 20-second rule and the Zorro circle. They are practical steps to start. Highly recommended.

A summary of the book:

The author presented his 7 principles:
1. The Happiness advantage – how happiness gives your brain and our organization – the competive advantage: I agreed with the general definition of happiness, which varies among people, the experience of positive emotion – pleasure combined with deeper feeling of meaning and purpose – three measurable components: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Or according to Achor, happiness is the the joy we feel striving after our potential. How to capitalize the happiness advantage: meditate, find something to look forward to (most enjoyable part is the anticipation), commit conscious acts of kindness, infuse positivity into your surroundings (turn off TV’s), Exercise, Spend money (not on stuff) on positive experiences or learning, 3:1 positive to negative interactions (Losada Line).

2. The Fulcrum and the Lever – change your performance by changing your mindset: Our brains are like single processors capable of devoting only a finite amount of resources to experiencing the world. We can leverage it to see the world through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism, and meaning. Our power to maximize our potential depend on two things: 1) the length of the lever – how much potential power and possibility we believe we have, and 2) the position of our fulcrum – the mindset with which we generate the power to change. The turning back the clock experiment on the 75-year-old men, the experiment of singing “row row row your boat” and count time, hotel maids losing weight when reminded of their calorie consumption, learning from the speakers or surroundings when stuck in a boring meeting, etc. were ways to change the fulcrum or perspective how we see the circumstance. Use growth mindset instead of fixed mindset. See your work as a career or calling instead of a job or chores. Derive meaning from each of your tasks. The Pygmalion Effect or self-fulfilled prophesy: when our belief in another person’s potential brings that potential to life.

3. The Tetris Effect – training your brain to capitalize on possibility: Need to be stuck in positive Tetris Effect (a pattern of thinking or behaving as if you’ve played hours of Tetris, after which everything looks like Tetris pieces). Three tools: happiness, gratitude, and optimism. Write daily journal of three good things or say three things to be thankful for before dinner.

4. Falling Up – Capitalizing on the Downs to Build Upward Momentum: Take the 3rd path (other than spiraling down or status quo) that take us to a place where we are even stronger and more capable than before the fall – post-traumatic growth, like Michael Jordan being cut from his high schoool basketball team, and etc. Need to overcome “learned helplessness.” A few strategies: 1. Change your counteract to positive one (“I could have died.”). 2.Change your explanatory style to an optimistic one (“It’s not that bad, and it’ll get better.”). 3. Learn your ABCD (Adversity, Belief, Consequence, and Disputation – telling ourselves that our belief is just a belief then dispute it.) Success if about more than simple resilience but using the downward momentum to propel us in the opposite direction. It’s not falling down, it’s falling up.

5. The Zorro Circle – how limiting your focus to small, manageable goals can expand your sphere of power: Success correlates with “internal locus of control” the belief that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes. For example, elders tasked with taking care of their plants live longer. The dueling brain of “Jerk” and “Thinker”: Jerk responds with “fight and flight” when we’re under stress and should “think, then react.” How do we regain control from the Jerk – use the Zorro Circle but start with self awareness circle first then tackle one small challenge at a time. Start running laps before training for marathon. “Don’t write a book, write a page…” Japanese Kaisen. Separate out what you can control and what you cannot. Clean out a small circle instead of the entire room. Cleaning out the graffiti and fixing the broken glass are the first step for New Yorkers to reverse the crime rate. Small successes can add up to major achievements. All it takes is drawing that first circle in the sand.

6. The 20-second rule – How to turn bad habits into good ones by minimizing barriers to change. “Common sense is not common action.” We are a bundle of habits. Why will power is not the way. We tend to succumb to paths of least resistance (activation energy ~ 20 seconds). Lower or eliminate the activation energy for the habits we want to adopt (use opt-out instead of opt-in) and raise it for the habits we want to avoid. Set rules of engagement – reduce rules and choices.

7. Social Investment – why social support is your single greatest asset. Author’s fire fighting lesson – hold tight to your social connection when under stress. Correlation between happiness and social support is 0.7 (huge). The importance of defensive linemen to the quarterback (Joe Montana). Even Edison surrounded himself with a 30 assistants. Have a “glue guy” in the work place. Manage by walking around.

The Ripple Effect: Spread the happiness advantage at work, home and beyond. Our actions have a ripple effect due to the mirror neurons. By practicing the 7 principles, we are spreading the happiness around us.