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The key to success? Happiness!

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage suggests that most of us become caught in a trap because we are waiting to be successful so we can then be happy.  What does that mean?  It means a lot of us never feel like we can arrive at being happy because we have not yet reached our ideals of success.  There is always something more to achieve, the next thing to do.  However, Achor presents research that we actually have that relationship backwards.  He suggests that the key to our success is that we have to learn how to be happy and optimistic before we can be truly successful in any area of our lives and that we can train our brain to do this.  He suggests that when we train our brains to be more positive, we become more motivated, creative, effective and productive, and thus successful.

There are many simple ways that we can create this positivity in our lives. When we set the goal of making changes in our lives, we can become overwhelmed if we make our goals to big our broad. In fact, that is another of Achor’s points: that we need to limit our goal setting to goals that are small, manageable, within our control and possible to achieve. What I find has worked best for me is choosing a couple of things and committing to doing them daily for one month. So start small and don’t underestimate the power of the positive. Little changes in our daily habits can have big changes in our quality of life and our overall success in all areas of our lives.

Here are some ideas of ways that you could increase joy, happiness, and gratitude in your own life.

  • Give someone a genuine compliment. Have you ever noticed that you when you see positive things in other people, you feel better about yourself?
  • Choose funny over fearful. What we view can have dramatic impacts on how we feel emotionally, so when you have a chance to put something on the TV or internet, consider choosing something that inspires you, makes you laugh or lifts your spirits. You might also want to create a humour file. Keep things like pictures or videos that make you laugh and when you need a “‘pick me up’,” particularly if you are being critical of yourself, look at something funny. Notice how you feel after you have done this.
  • Choose connection over isolation. It can be really challenging to get out when we are feeling stressed or overwhelmed, but Achor suggests that connecting with other people with whom we have meaningful relationships with is the single greatest investment we can make. For me, what this has meant is to sometimes choose to letting go of some of the items on my “‘to do”’ list in favour of picking up the phone to call a friend or sitting down to have a meaningful talk with a family member.
  • Develop a gratitude practice. There are many ways to do this but what works for me is having a daily intention to practice gratitude, tied to a ritual (a time and place where I reflect on my gratitude) while really feeling the gratitude in my body. Research shows that when we can feel the experience in our body, rather than it just being a thought in our head, we strengthen those neural networks in our brains, making us more likely to feel grateful in the future. That might mean noticing if your muscles feel more relaxed, you feel warmer or you feel a tingling in your heart area when you think about an experience you are grateful for.
  • Take a few “‘Mindful Minutes”’ each day. You may want to set an alarm to remind yourself to do this. Then give yourself a minute or more to stop what you are doing, and notice your breathing, paying attention to what it feels like to breath. As you are finishing, notice what your body is needing? Do you need to stretch, get something to eat, feel the sun on your face, or get feedback from a colleague? When we are mindful, we are more likely to tune into our needs and look after ourselves.

Positivity Cheat Sheet: Positivity Cheat Sheet image

  • Give a compliment
  • Choose funny
  • Connect meaningfully with others
  • Have gratitude
  • Take Mindful Minutes
  • Add your own:

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness Advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Crown Business.

Jenni Rowe, MSW, RSW, is a Clinical Counsellor at Carizon Family and Community Services.