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A Happiness Matters Booster Shot

9 May 2017

Barbara watched Brené Brown interview Shawn Achor about his happiness research, then watched his TEDx Talk, and was reminded happiness is a choice.

Tags: barbara read, barbara watched, brene brown, happiness, ted

I first learned about Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, when Rachel blogged about it six years ago. Then I went to Rachel's class, Happiness Matters. Her summary of the positive psychology research plus suggestions on how to choose happiness even when times are hard has been so helpful to me.

However, recently I've been struggling to do the things that I know will help me to feel happier. My husband is a pediatrician so I'm familiar with the importance of vaccine booster shots for increasing immunity. I'm grateful Brené Brown reminded me what I know I need to do to feel happier in her recent interview of Shawn Achor. Then I watched his TEDx Talk, and started making his practices a priority again. I'm already feeling better.

Achor taught a course on positivity at Harvard and thought no one would show up, but hundreds did. His research showed that there are people with seemingly all of life's blessings who do not choose happiness, and there are people in dire circumstances who find a way to concentrate on something good. Our culture teaches us we will be happy when we get good grades, when we get into a good college, when we get married, when we get a good job, when we get a better job. Achor says that’s backwards. That model never provides happiness because every time we reach a goal, we move the goal post.

We have to learn how to be happy before we get the things we want, and he has a list in his TEDx Talk of five specific activities that help us choose happiness. For 21 days:

  1. Write three new things you are grateful for each day. Choosing new things trains your brain to look for the blessings no matter what is going on.
  2. Journal about one positive thing in the last 24 hours.
  3. Exercise—exercise not only creates soothing endorphins. It teaches your brain that you have mastery over something. Any movement will make you feel better than continuing to sit and watch TV on your device.
  4. Meditate—“research shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.” Five minutes of quiet watching your breath go in and out can make a difference.
  5. Do a random act of kindness—Send one positive email thanking or praising someone.

Achor learned to do these things after he had a two-year depression. He also fell off the wagon, so to speak, while he was doing a 33-country tour to talk about his happiness research. He was so busy that he stopped doing what he was recommending. He had a literal and figurative fall and was on his back for six weeks while he healed from a fractured disk in his back.  He realized he had to “walk his talk” and get back to doing what his research had shown to be true.

picture of Brené Brown interviewing Shawn Achor taken from COURAGEworks site

He said, “It is scary to think our mind set might be something that we have control over.” His research has shown that happiness can be a choice, and yet he doesn’t choose it sometimes. Following his five recommendations doesn’t mean he never gets sad anymore, but his set point for happiness is higher.

Achor added, “Happiness is easy to talk about in the good times. It is a luxury then. It’s difficult to talk about in the hard times, but it becomes a necessity. Finding something to be grateful for can help you hold on when going through difficult experiences.”

The search for happiness is not just a selfish desire. If you do what he suggests, you will be more productive, feel better as you work toward your goal, and be more supportive to others.

I’ve heard or read all that he recommends before, but his delivery style in the TEDx Talk and interview with Brené Brown gave me a fresh boost to get back to doing the little things that can make a big difference.


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