The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Rate: 3/5

Medium: Audiobook

Overview (Spoilers Abound)

 After thoroughly enjoying Creativity, Inc., I decided to pick up another management style nonfiction read, with The Happiness Advantage. As a student at Harvard, Achor was introduced to the emerging field of positive psychology. Upon finding his calling in this field, The Happiness Advantage is a collection of experiences from his time at Harvard as a student of various levels, starting a positivity company during The Great Recession, and scientific studies to back up his talking points. 

While The Happiness Advantage covers a wide array of topics, Achor’s take on large overwhelming tasks particularly hit home, as it was actually how I made it through graduate school. When starting out at MSU, the amount of work I would have to accomplish to gain my PhD seemed insurmountable. It takes a lot to get me flustered, but I remember distinctly feeling like it was a lost cause. As a chronic list maker, I compiled a list of every hoop I had to jump through over the next four to five years, which put into perspective the immediate tasks and manageable tasks that I could handle in the short term. I kept that list up until I submitted my dissertation, having methodically checked off every item on the three page list that had kept me focused throughout the program. I’ve employed that same mentality to situations that seem overwhelming both at work and in life (wedding planning anyone?) to ease the stress of situations that seem impossible at their face with a place to start. 

Another topic Achor broached was willpower. Personally, I’m notorious for having terrible willpower, which I’ve always chalked up as not being in the cards for me. My friend Sarah has this ironclad force of will that enables her to achieve whatever she puts her mind to: half marathon, marathon, month long diets. Here’s an example of the local strength of my will that almost exactly mirrors a story that Achor tells. When I worked for Kelloggs I had over an hour drive to work. Every morning I would have this inner conversation with myself about how I didn’t need to stop for coffee at the halfway point. On the drive I would be congratulating myself on my strength today for not needing coffee, but just as I got to the exit I decided to reward myself for staying so strong… with coffee. This cycle repeated day after day. As such, I found solace in the scientific studies Achor proffered that basically reinforced that my response was totally normal and fixable. Essentially, the more willpower is used the weaker it gets. Instead, implement a 20 second rule to lower the activation energy to enact a change. So in this case, I should have made making coffee at home easier than taking the time to get off the exit and wait for coffee in a shop. This is just one example, but I’ve now thought about implementing a few changes at home to help make my barrier to working out easier. Really, the important takeaway here is changing my perspective on how I view my ‘weak’ will power and acknowledging there are ways I can better my odds at keeping a goal.

Achor touched on many different topics such as the importance of expressing gratitude, training yourself to look for the positive, intentional blindness, and turning your job into a calling to level up your happiness and by extension those around you. One of the most intriguing concepts Achor introduced was the Tetris Effect that I won’t go into detail but at its core challenges you to ponder how your brain is programmed to function or approach problems. Are you only looking for the flaws and how an idea will fail? Do you then bring this home and look for ways your partner is failing? I think I’m so turned to efficiency that I definitely bring this into home. I’ve often said it physically hurts me to not speak up when I see an easier way a task (even at home) can be accomplished, which isn’t always the best time to interrupt someone learning.

While I think that The Happiness Advantage was intriguing and fit into a lot of who I am and why I’ve been successful, I don’t think Achor’s message is as cookie cutter as delivered. .That said, I found the scientific studies he presented to be fascinating, especially in how the brain is ever evolving and can continually learn throughout life. Overall, The Happiness Advantage is an interesting read that challenges conventional modes of thought, adding a positive mantra that is harmless to implement and can better one’s own life. 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s