Happiness. Turns out I’ve been doing it wrong. Not that I’m not happy. I am. Ask anybody – I’m a generally pretty happy kind of guy.
Even so, lately it seemed like things had been “piling up” a little bit. Challenges at work. The constant drone of negative news from around the world. Jay Cutler (yes, I’m a Bears fan; sorry if that offends you). And, of course, the types of challenges that come with working and raising a family.
It was all starting to get to me.
So it made me really happy recently to attend a talk by Shawn Achor, the best-selling author of “The Happiness Advantage,” at the TEC (The Executive Committee) Inspirational Leadership conference. Achor preaches the gospel of “positive psychology.” We’ve all heard of the power of positive thinking, but Achor frames happiness in a way I really appreciated.
He says most of us have been getting it exactly backwards.
Happiness Before Success
Historically, people tend to look at happiness as a “goal” to be reached. We think, “If I can just do this or accomplish that, or reach a particular level of wealth or financial security, then I’ll be happy.” The problem is that we continually move the goalposts. We tend to always reach a little bit beyond where we are, so we never get where we’re trying to go.
So Achor preaches a different way of approaching it. Rather than working toward something in order to feel happy, he says we should think of happiness as the “fuel” toward greater performance and achievement.
Achor points to research that shows that our brains work better when we’re happy. In “The Happiness Advantage,” he writes: “When we are happy – when our mindsets and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.”
Makes sense, sure – but easier said than done, right?
Five Great Happiness Hacks
Fortunately, Achor doesn’t leave it at that. He also provides some concrete ways of making your mood and mindset more positive. And none of them involve anything like “win the lottery.” They’re much simpler than that, and well within your control to put into action. Here are a few that I’ve already found useful:
- Gratitude: Think of three new things you’re grateful for over the past 24 hours.
- “The Doubler”: Think of one positive experience and write down four details about it for 21 days in a row.
- “The Fun 15”: Just 15 minutes of cardio activity each day can significantly boost your outlook.
- Meditation: Take your hands off the keyboard for two minutes and “watch your breath” (focus on your breathing).
- Conscious Acts of Kindness: Take two minutes to write a positive, encouraging e-mail to someone you know.
Maybe you’re thinking it’s too hard to change, that you’re too hard-wired in your pessimistic ways to start seeing the world through an optimistic lens. You’re not. Research shows that even your brain can change, just by changing a few of your habits. The more we make an effort to focus on the positive, the more it will start to happen naturally.
Here’s one that jumped out at me. Achor cites research that shows that watching or listening to just three minutes of negative news in the morning makes you 27 percent more likely to report having a bad day eight hours later. That’s a big effect for three minutes of time!
The good news is, when you focus on solutions – thinking of ways to solve the problems you hear about – the effect is opposite. Your creative and problem-solving abilities increase significantly.
So you don’t have to stop watching the news in the morning. You just have to change the way you process the information.
Happiness All Around
I loved this talk, and this idea, for a lot of reasons. One of the key reasons is that it confirmed for me how much we’re already doing right. GS was founded on the principle that if you make a great place to work, you’ll make great work. We work hard to create a fun, positive work environment – not just for our employees but for our clients, as well.
This philosophy has led us to considerable success over the years, and it has also led us to our current focus on customer engagement. We love helping people love the things they love even more. It makes us happy to make them happy. And when that happens, the brands we work with generate greater brand loyalty, more repeat purchases, increased brand evangelism, and more.
All of those things make me very, very happy.
Upon further reflection, I don’t think I was really doing happiness wrong. I just needed a nudge, a reminder, to focus on the positive. To remember to put happiness first, to make it part of the process instead of the goal. To cut Jay Cutler some slack.
Maybe I’ll even become a Packers fan! Nah. That won’t happen. Because there’s a limit to what even I will do to be happy.