The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor (2010)

I’ve been interested in this book and in psychologist Shawn Achor’s research for a long time. A pandemic year seemed like the right time to learn more about rewiring our brains to become more positive, and hopefully, happier. There’s a LOT we can do to gain a better outlook in life, to scan for the positive instead of the negative, and to filter out some of what brings us down. That’s not to say to put our heads in the sand and to ignore the world around us: we need to be aware of suffering, disease, and injustice, and when possible, we need to help bring change and healing to those things. But waking up every day and looking for the negative in the world is neither helping others nor helping ourselves.

Like most self-help books, this can get repetitive at times, and it can also feel obvious at times, and, in the words of my daughter, he can feel a bit arrogant. All true. But also, what’s most basic is too often ignored, such as the fact that we CAN rewire our brains–yes, we can change the chemistry. At least to some extent. And we can do little things every day–sustainable things–that can make us happier.

Though many may agree with Achor’s premise that success doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness, I think we’re often still mired in the mindset that it will: if we just get to that next benchmark or grade or record, everything will feel better. After all, Achor started his research by noticing that most of the students around him at Harvard were depressed, anxious, and/or unhappy. And he thought “here we are at the pinnacle of education, the greatest university, and everyone looks miserable.” The competition to do well, the stress to get As, the feelings of being overwhelmed by the work instead of overjoyed by the learning and new information–all of that contributed to a student body who seemed mostly negative rather than mostly positive. And thus his journey into positive psychology began.

Some of his takeaways: When we reframe failure as an opportunity for growth, we are more likely to experience that growth. The most successful people, in work and in life, believe that their actions have a direct effect on their outcomes–even when they can’t control what happens, they can control how they react to those events. When we scan for the positive and make it a daily habit, we’re more likely to experience happiness, gratitude, and optimism. The goal for all of us: to flourish in life. I think this book is worth reading. We can all do a little more to find the positive while still be true to ourselves.

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