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The Happiness Advantage – Book Notes

Happiness Advantage
Shawn Achor

Happiness gives your brain, and organization, a competitive advantage.  

  • Escaping the cult of the average, if we study merely what is average we will remain merely average.
  • As a society, we know very well how to be unwell and miserable and so little about how to thrive. Society focuses on the negative.
  • Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%
  • Social relationships are the best guarantee of heightened well-being and lowered stress, both an antidote for depression and a prescription for high performance.
  • Seven Principles
  1. Happiness Advantage  – happiness gives you a competitive edge
  2. Fulcrum and the Lever – adjust out mindset in a way that gives up power
  3. The Tetris Effect retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility
  4. Falling Up – finding a mental path that leads up out of failure/suffering
  5. The Zorro Circle – regain control of emotions by focusing first on small, manageable goals and then gradually expanding the circle to achieve bigger ones.
  6. The 20-Second Rule – willpower is limited – make small energy adjustments to reroute the path of least resistance and replace bad habits with good ones
  7. Social Investment – the most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward.
  • Brain not changing is wrong. Neuroplasticity is the idea that the brain is malleable and can change throughout our lives.
  • Brain change is a well known fact.
    1. We have the ability for intellectual and personal growth

Principle #1 – The Happiness Advantage (Happiness gives your brain a competitive edge)

Happiness is the center and success revolves around it. Happiness is relative to the person experiencing it. Happiness is defined as pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. A positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future (pleasure/engagement/meaning).

Happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential. Happiness causes success and achievement, not the other way around. Happiness is not just a mood, it’s a work ethic. You can get better at it.

Find a happiness booster – person activity fit is often just as important as the activity itself.

  • Meditate,
  • Find something to look forward to,
  • Commit a conscious act of kindness,
  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings,20 min outside is great, less negative TV
  • Exercise.
  • Spend money on experiences,
  • exercise a signature strength (everyone is good at something – revisit a talent you haven’t used in a while. – best is exercising a strength of character ( e.g. Love of Learning

By changing the way you work, and the way you lead people around you, you can enhance the success of your team and the whole organization.

Make an effort to adopt a more positive tone and facial expression. Encouragement and recognition should be used to drive high performance.

Losada line – three positive comments/experiences to fend off one negative (at a ratio of 6:1 teams produce their best work).  

Principle #2 – The Fulcrum And The Lever (Change your performance by changing your mindset)

We can use our brain to change how we process the world , and that changes how we react to it. Our power to maximize our potential is based on two important things:

  1. How much power we believe we have (Lever)
  2. The mindset we use to generate that power (Fulcrum)

“Reality is merely our brain’s relative understanding of the world based on where and how we are observing it. Depending on their mindset, each person experiences the objective reality of time differently.

The mental construction of our daily activities, more than the activity itself, defines our reality. (ex: hotel works who lost weight by being primed to do so before hand)

The most successful people adopt a mindset that helps them work longer, harder, and faster than their negative mindset peers.  (Use Lifelines instead of Deadlines) When we reconnect with the pleasure of the “means” as opposed to only the “ends” we adopt a more enjoyable mindset and achieve better results. Learn to enjoy life.

The more you believe in your own ability to succeed, the more likely you will (Obama winning the election improved black students performance). When faced with a difficult task/challenge, focus on the reasons you will succeed.  

Fixed vs. Growth mindset. When we believe there is a positive payoff for our effort, we work harder.

Job vs. Career vs. Calling – people who have a calling feel their work contributes to the greater good, draws on personal strengths, and gives them meaning and purpose (as a result they are more likely to get ahead). A calling orientation is about mindset rather than the actual work being done (e.g. admin and janitors).

The more we can align our daily tasks with our personal vision, the more likely we are to see work as a calling (e.g. don’t’ say we’re not saving lives here – the fastest way to disengage an employee is to tell them work is only meaningful b/c of paycheck).  You can have the best job in the world, but if you can’t find meaning in it, you won’t enjoy it).

The best managers and leaders view each interaction as an opportunity to prime their employees for excellence. Nonverbal messages can transform into reality (e.g. student and teachers who thought they were special).

Theory X managers – people work b/c you pay them, if you don’t watch them they will stop working.

Theory Y managers – people work for intrinsic motives, they work harder and better when not being ordered around, and that they do it for the satisfaction they receive from good work.

We have to be careful not to have unrealistic expectations about our potential. The heart of the challenge is to stop thinking of the world as fixed when reality is relative.   

Principle #3 – The Tetris Effect (Training your brain to capitalize on possibility)

By repeating triggers in the brain you get stuck in “cognitive afterimage” Focus on the positive and not the negative and you will see more positives around you and generally be happier.

We are often rewarded for noticing problems that need solving. This is useful but constantly scanning the world for negatives undercuts creativity, raises stress levels, and lowers motivation to accomplish goals.

Imagine a way of seeing that constantly picked up on the positives in every situation. That’s the goal of a Positive Tetris Effect: Instead of creating a cognitive pattern that looks for negatives and blocks success, it trains our brains to scan the world for the opportunities and ideas that allow our success rate to grow.


When we focus on the positive we profit from: Happiness, Gratitude, and Optimism.

The more opportunities for positives we see, the more grateful we become.

Career success is predicated on the ability to spot and capitalize on opportunities. When someone is a negative loop they can’t see opportunities.

“Predictive Encoding” primes yourself to expect a favorable outcome actually encodes your bran to recognize the outcome when it arises.

The best way to ensure follow through on a desired activity is to make it a habit. The key here is to ritualize the task. It doesn’t matter when you do it, as long as you do it on a regular basis.

In business and in life, a reasonable optimist will win every time.

It’s about opening our minds to the ideas and opportunities that will help us be more productive, effective, and successful at work and in life.

Principle #4 – Falling Up (Capitalize on the downs to build upward momentum)

The human brain is constantly creating and revising mental maps to help us navigate our way through the world. The most successful decisions come when we are thinking clearly and creatively enough to recognize all the paths available to sue, and accurately predict where that path will lead.

There mental maps after crisis:

  1. No Change
  2. Far Worse
  3. Stronger and More Capable (post traumatic growth)

If we are able to conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth, we are all the more likely to experience that growth (option #3). We are able to move up not despite the setback, but because of them! e.g. what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people are able to make the best out of things that happen.

p. 111

Every failure is often the fuel for the ideas that transform industries and reinvent careers (MJ, Walt Disney, The Beatles)

Two shoe salesmen in Africa

  1. “Situation hopeless, they don’t wear shoes.”
  2. “Glorious opportunity! They don’t have shoes yet.”

The best leaders show their true colors not in good times, but during times of struggle (read: Leadership in Turbulent Times)

When faced with obstacles or failure, succumbing to helplessness keeps us down on the mat, while looking fort he path of opportunity helps us pick ourselves up.

Change your counterfact. The brain invents a “counterfact”, an alternative scenario to help us evaluate and make sense of what really happened. Because it’s invented, we have the power to consciously select a counterfact that makes us feel fortunate rather than helpless.

People with an optimistic explanatory style interpret adversity as being local and temporary, while those with a pessimistic explanatory style see events as more global and permanent.

ABCD = Adversity, Belief, Consequence, and Disputation.

Our fear of consequences is always worse than the consequences themselves.

Principle #5 – The Zorro Circle (Limiting your focus to small manageable goals can expand your sphere of power)

Mastery and triumph will come with dedication and time.

Feeling we are in control is one of the strongest drivers of well being and performance. Internal vs External locus of control.

When people are primed to feel high levels of distress, the quickest way to recover is to identify how you are feeling and put those feelings into words.

Concentrate on small areas you can make a difference. By tackling one small challenge at a time — a narrow circle that slowly expands — we can relearn that our actions have a direct effect on outcomes – that we are masters of our own fate.

Reaching for the stars is a recipe for failure. When our goals are unrealizable, we run the risk of becoming frustrated, dejected, and stuck.

Small successes can add up to major achievements.

Principle #6 – The 20-Second Rule (How to turn bad habits into good ones by minimizing barriers to change)

Without action, knowledge is meaningless.

If we want to make lasting change we should “make our nervous system our ally instead of our enemy.”

We are drawn to things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia. Human nature takes us down the path of least resistance time and time again.

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid. The more we can lower, or even eliminate, the activation energy for our desired actions, the more we enhance our ability to jump-start positive change.

Exercise in the morning raises your performance on cognitive tasks and gives your brain a “win” to start a cascade effect of positive emotions. Make it easy to do this by sleeping in gym clothes or putting shoes right on the floor near your bed (or move your meditation mat right next to your bed like me).

If you can cut activation energy for habits that lead to success, it won’t be long until you reap the benefits.

Principle #7 – Social Investment (Social support is your single greatest asset)

The most successful people hold tight to their social support. Instead of divesting, they invest. They are more productive, engaged, energetic, resilient, and happier.

Football metaphor, our offensive line: partners, families, and friends.

Edison was a social creative, not a lone wolf. Social connections at work predicted more individual learning behavior. The more socially connect3ed employees feel, the more they took the time ot figure out ways to improve their own efficiency / skill set.

The greatest predictor of a team’s achievement was how the members felt about one another. The more the team members invest in their social cohesion, the better the results of their work.

The people who actively invest in their relationships are the heart and soul of a thriving organization, the force that drives their teams forward. In sports, these people are called “glue guys.”

When we make eye contact with someone, it actually sends a signal to the brain that triggers empathy and support.

Responses that are active and constructive (yes, and) are the best and contribute most positively to the relationship.

Introducing two employees who don’t know each other is the easiest and fastest way to invest in social dividends.

Work on being present, both physically and mentally. Forging a connection requires active listening — giving someone your full attention and also allowing them to have their say.

Delivering specific and authentic praise for a job well done strengthens the connection between two people. It literally cements a relationship.

Our relationships are the greatest predictor of both happiness and high performance.

The Ripple Effect (summary – spreading at home, work, and beyond)

Thoughts and actions are constantly shaping and reshaping the neural pathways in the brain.

When these principles make a positive change in your life, you are unconsciously shaping the behavior of an incredible amount of people.

Smiling tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy, so it starts producing the neurochemicals that actually do make you happy. The happier you are, the more positivity you transmit to colleagues, teammates, clients, which can eventually tip the emotion of the entire team.

The stronger your social connections, the more influence you wield.

Workers in rapport think more creatively and efficiently, and team in rapport perform at higher levels — their thoughts are attuned and their brains are in effect working as one. (one way to build rapport is through eye contact).

People in positive moods are better able to think creatively and logically, and to engage in complex problem solving and even be better negotiators.

One very small change can trigger a cascade of bigger ones.

Success actually revolves around happiness, not the other way around.