The Happiness Advantage

A couple of days ago I watched a fascinating program offered on Public Broadcast Station (PBS) on a program titled: The Happiness Advantage.  A researcher on the science of positive psychology, Shawn Achor, spoke about his findings regarding the ability to experience more happiness in our lives.  Having a background in studying human behavior most of my life and having applied many of the teaching he covers as consistent habits, I can concur with Shawn’s findings and his suggested applications.

As Shawn suggests in his presentation, we think that by accomplishing success and wealth we will ultimately find happiness.  We  think if good things happen to us (external factors) that we will see the happiness we yearn for (internal joy).  However, just the opposite is true.  We find happiness by first working with our internal thoughts and attitudes and then the external begins to manifest events that bring us joy.  The reality of finding and maintaining happiness and in our lives is in understanding that we need to make a mental shift that changes our brains.  By doing some very simple daily acts, and creating a source of positive habits in our lives, we can fundamentally shift away from being anxious and fearful to living in contentment and joy. 

Here are five easy steps that Shawn offers as a way of making that mental/brain shift in our lives:

1.  Practicing the 3 Gratitudes.  Identifying three very specific events/things that happened in the last 24 hours that you can be grateful for.  Our gratitude obviously is one we express to our God or the Universe, if you wish to speak in more secular terms. By doing this practice your brain is actually lighting up when you are thinking and reliving that experience.  By expressing a sense of gratitude for a particular experience you are in essence imprinting that experience as a positive one in your mind.  Viola, your brain has just registered three really good things that you experienced in the last 24 hours!  Shawn suggests doing this activity for 21 straight days.

2.  Journaling.  Shawn requires you to journal or write down at least one positive experience.  This act of writing, like stating something out loud, reinforces the brain in a sense of belief.  Anytime you are activating more then one of your senses, you are building neuron connections when you go beyond just  thinking about a thing.  You reinforce by the sound of your voice (which is why declaring positive affirmations is so life changing), and this is also done by the act of writing (or typing if you prefer a keyboard approach).

3.  Exercise.  The physical movements we add into our daily lives are also reinforcements to our brain.  In the PBS special Shawn recommends adding three more smiles to your day.  Smile at anyone you meet.  If this is not something that is your normal way of being (and there are some of us that do find this practice easier to do than others), force yourself to smile at yourself in the mirror everyday.  By adding more smiles to your face your brain will register an additional level of the happiness juice called dopamine.  Try it.  I know you’ll like it after you’ve practice this for a while.  If smiling feels like it may break your face Shawn suggests holding a pencil (horizontally not vertically) in your mouth to cause the corners of your mouth to go up.  Additionally, the advantage to smiling is you get smiles back.  Your actions are often mirrored right back to you.

4.  Meditation.  Shawn speaks of needing quiet time to focus and give thoughtfulness to your life.  I speak of having time to converse with God.  This quiet refocusing is crucial to finding happiness in your life.  You can only rid the anxiety you feel by quieting the mind and focusing on what you desire in your life — for most of us that’s usually peace of mind.

5.  Random Acts of Kindness.  Shawn recommends sending an email or connecting by a telephone call to someone in your circle of friends and acquaintances.  This is not done via a FACEBOOK post.  That doesn’t cut it, folks.  You need to send a personal note to someone who you know.  Spending even just two minutes connecting to that person will ignite dopamine in your brain again.  Not only that, but your circle of real friends will start to expand and grow — a very good thing!

Shawn makes a very good point in his PBS program.  He acknowledges that most of us that will say “I know all this stuff — this is nothing new!”  Yes, dear reader, you are exactly right.  But KNOWING is not the same thing as DOING!  Once you get beyond the reluctance of trying to make real changes in your life, like applying even one of these five techniques, you will find that your happiness scale may actually start to change.  If you want to see huge changes then act on these recommendations for a minimum of 21 days.  See what happens to your life after that. 

View Shawn Achor’s ideas on gaining happiness to your life (enjoy!):


One Response to “The Happiness Advantage”

  1. “The Happiness Advantage” really does make a difference. I am someone who has taken Shawn Achor’s concept of “random acts of kindness” to the next level by starting the Share the Advantage project. We are giving away 365 copies of “The Happiness Advantage” in 2013 as an approach to spreading the advantage with others through random acts of kindness. Please check us out at

    We’d love to hear from you!

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