The Happiness Advantage

img_postcard-cowboy1What if you could improve your productivity by 30% without sacrificing happiness?

We’ve been told that if you have a good work ethic and work really hard, you can be successful and then you will be happy. New discoveries in psychology say this formula is backwards. If you reverse the order of the formula, you end up with greater happiness and greater success rates. Happiness comes first. Success follows.

The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor spent a decade researching his Harvard Students and Fortune 500 executives in 45 countries. His research subjects had been accepted into Harvard. Or, they were at the top of their organization. Why weren’t these people happy? The problem, Achor found, was that many focused on “I’ll be happy when…” They equated happiness with future success.

Unfortunately, if you link your happiness to a future event, the goal post keeps moving. So, you might say: I’ll be happy “When I get this job,” “When I earn this promotion,” “When I graduate…” Then, when you get the job, promotion or diploma, your mind immediately sets another future goaland don’t get a chance to be happy.

And happiness really matters. Achor learned that there is a real business advantage to happiness:

  • Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.
  • When you are happy, dopamine levels increase in your brain and makes it easier to learn.
  • Happy salespeople sell 37% more
  • Doctors are 19% faster and more accurate at making a diagnosis when their happiness level is increased
  • Coal miners who feel appreciated by their employers are 30% more productive

Achor found when his students and executives embraced five habits, they were happier. As a result they experienced measurable increases in productivity, stress reduction and more success at work and at home. What’s the secret sauce to greater happiness? five happiness-enriching habits:

1. The Three Gratitudes: Write down three new things you are grateful for each day. They have to be new things each day. Save or merge your lists. You’ll collect an enriching inventory of what’s good about your life. And it teaches your brain to scan the world not for the negative, but for positive first. It enables you to see more opportunities.

2. Journaling Write for 2 minutes a day describing one positive experience you had over the past 24 hours. This habit will help you move to a focus on what’s meaningful in your work and life and away from “to-do list” thinking. And, the process of journaling allows your brain to relive that positive experience.

3. Exercise Be active for 10 minutes a day. “Exercise trains your brain to believe your behavior matters,” said Anchor, “which causes a cascade of success throughout the rest of the day. (The author had a hard time with this habit so he went to bed in his workout clothes for 21 days. The only thing he had to do in the morning was put on his tennis shoes. He made it harder to not exercise than it was to exercise.)

4. Meditate for 2 minutes, focusing on your breath going in and out. This will help you undo the negative effects of multitasking. Because, as Achor reminds us that we have a cultural ADHD but “Research shows you get multiple tasks done faster if you do them one at a time.”

5. Random Acts of Kindness Write one, quick email first thing in the morning thanking or praising a member of your social support network. Anchor found that the largest predictor of happiness is a social support network. Expressing appreciation, and encouraging others, significantly increases your social support network.


He’s issued the 21-Day challenge, encouraging you to take on one of these five habits. Don’t take on all these new habits at once. Anchor says to pick one habit and do it for 21 days. Then take on another.

So, it’s true, we do need a work ethic to be successful. And, happiness is a work ethic. We have to train our brains to be positive. We need to leverage our happiness to achieve success. We store up an inventory of resilience to tap into under stress. And, by teaching our brain to control our emotions focus on small, manageable goals, we are better able to cope with crisis. That’s the advantage of happiness. That’s how we can help ourselves have a truly Happy New Year!


Thirsty for More? You can watch Shawn Anchor share his happiness research and insights online. There’s a 12-minute version to a TED audience. Or, search for his 100-minute presentation to the 2011 National MS Society Conference.


Jeri Mae Rowley, MS Human Resource Management, is a professional speaker and master trainer. You can read more of her articles, and learn more about her many speaking topics, on her website: