Members of our workplace book club recently read Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life by Shawn Achor.  I see you rolling your eyes. The title might sound a bit Pollyanna, but Achor is a scientist who has made a career of studying happiness and how it can boost productivity and success at work and in our lives.

Not only does Achor’s book describe the research that proves the power of a happiness mindset, he also gives readers specific tips on how to develop a more positive outlook in ourselves and a more positive atmosphere in the workplace.

Building a happier work environment

Numerous studies show that many employees feel unhappy at work (and often, in their lives). Earlier this year, Gallup published research finding that PB-US-Blog-happiness-inlineonly 34% of employees feel “engaged” with their jobs – that is, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. Think about that for a minute – only a third of the workforce feels excited about their jobs! 

But are we really surprised?  You don’t have to look hard to see that many people lack trust in their managers. Employees feel overworked and overwhelmed trying to juggle job responsibilities with family, community and other outside obligations.  For managers, this can seem like a huge challenge or problem. But what if we looked at the situation as an opportunity? 

In the war for talent, leaders and organizations could gain a significant competitive advantage by creating a positive, purpose-driven and employee-focused culture.  People want to find meaning in what they do.  They want to make a difference by delivering value.  As leaders, we can promote a positive workplace culture by creating a safe, trustworthy and collaborative environment. 

But employee happiness is not solely dependent on leadership.

Achor’s book maintains that individuals can also take positive steps to improve their outlook and increase their success on the job. The common wisdom has been that if we work harder -- get a raise, get the promotion, land the deal -- then we’ll feel successful, and when we’re successful then we’ll feel happy.  But Achor says this formula is backward.  In fact, happiness fuels success, not the other way around.

According to research cited in the book, 75 percent of our successes at work are predicted by our optimism levels, social support and the ability to see stresses as a challenge and not a threat – not by IQ.

“When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work,” Achor writes. “This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe”.

Happiness and optimism also improve the productivity and performance of teams, which means a positive mindset brings value to all employees and the organizations they serve.

Training your brain for positivity

So what were some of the major takeaways for creating a happier “you”?  Achor spends the majority of the book educating us on seven actionable principles that can help anyone overcome the stress and negativity of increased workloads, obligations and societal negativity.  Each one is backed by thorough research and meaningful case studies that prove their effectiveness whether you are in the “classroom or the boardroom”. 

He also suggests that in 21 days, we can rewire our brains to work more optimistically and successfully by:

  • Writing down three new things you’re grateful for each day, which helps your brain start to scan the world for positivity first
  • Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had in the past 24 hours, which allows your brain to relive the experience
  • Meditating, which allows your brain to rest from multitasking and focus on one thing
  • Performing one random or conscious act of kindness per day, such as sending one email praising or thanking someone in your social support network

The book shares so many fascinating case studies that our book club group couldn’t help but feel inspired and encouraged after reading it. We were fascinated to learn that happiness doesn’t happen at random but is a state of mind we can practice. Because we can mindfully reshape the way we see the world and how we frame each situation, we have the power to be more successful than we may believe. When we work to build our happiness, success is sure to follow.

This book really impacted me and I encourage others to try sharing Happiness Advantage with your colleagues, family and friends. And if you don’t have time to read the entire book, spend 12 minutes watching Achor’s TED Talk on YouTube to get the condensed version. I promise you it will be time well spent.


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Al Chiaradonna