Harvard University has a whole lot going for it: first-rate facilities, top-notch professors, and many of the smartest students in the United States. You would think this would be an idyllic academic environment, and in many ways it is.
But there’s a problem: many of the students aren’t happy. In fact, a lot of them are depressed, which is often a hopeless and dark state of mind.
Coming out of high school as academic superstars, they suddenly find out their classes are jam-packed with super high achievers. Based on simple math, that means the vast majority of them won’t be in the top 10 percent of the graduating class. This and other factors cause widespread depression.
“There are now many truths at Harvard, and one of them is that despite all its magnificent facilities, a wonderful faculty, and a student body made up of some of America’s (and the world’s) best and brightest, it is home to many chronically unhappy young men and women,” writes author Shawn Achor in his book The Happiness Advantage: How a Positive Brain Fuels Success in Work and Life.
A poll by the school newspaper, the Harvard Crimson, found as many as four of five Harvard students suffer from depression at least once during the school year.
After his undergraduate years at this esteemed university, Achor continued his studies there as a graduate student and taught undergraduates a course titled “Positive Psychology.”
He wanted to understand why so many of these students were depressed, matriculating at a stellar place revered by so many. Taking this pursuit a step further, he wanted to know how they could be happier, as well as how people in the workforce and all other aspects of life could gain more lasting happiness.
Polling 1,600 high-achieving Harvard undergraduates on the subject of happiness, he found social support is a greater predictor of happiness than any other factor — more than grade point average, family income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race. Put simply, the students who had the strongest relationships with other people were the happiest.
He also noted these findings run counter to what we’ve often been taught are the logical steps to happiness. Under previous conventional thinking, we graduate from college, get a job, make money, buy a house and then we achieve happiness and consider ourselves successful.
“These students had been taught that if you work hard you will be successful – and only then once you are successful will you be happy. But new research in psychology and neuroscience shows that it works the other way around. We become more successful when we are happier and more positive. Happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement – giving us the competitive edge that I call the Happiness Advantage.”
The author defines happiness as the experience of positive emotions, and pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. “Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future. Happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential.”
So what does all this have to do with you? Well, let’s start with this. The author writes about a real retreat in 1979 that several 75-year-old men went on. They were instructed to picture themselves at 55 years old the entire time. Tested on many aspects of age such as physical strength, posture, vision, and intelligence, they came out of that weekend with better posture and improved eyesight. And they performed better on memory and intelligence tests.
The results demonstrate the power of one’s mindset – having the mentality of being 20 years younger — to determine how you perform and your level of fulfillment and happiness.
There are plenty of books about how to be happier. Most feel like superficial pop psychology concepts devoid of powerful substance. But this book rings true because of all the research cited that supports the idea that if you begin with the notion that you’re successful, your success and happiness will naturally follow. And if you want to be happy, improve and expand your personal relationships.
So how do you do this in real life? The author offers several tips.
Tip 1: Don’t Focus on Weaknesses
You’ve been in those awful reviews of your job performance. Your boss points out you’re not good at this or that and you need to improve and will be too accountable for making that happen.
The review centers on what you aren’t good at with a sprinkling of perfunctory compliments if you’re lucky. The author says don’t do this if you’re reviewing someone’s performance unless you want to underperform yourself.
“How many well-meaning managers shoot themselves in the foot when they remind those under them at work of their weaknesses?”
It’s the author’s rhetorical question. The answer is every one of them. People hate being told they’re weak. This is obvious. Don’t do it.
When reviewing your employee’s performance, openly express your faith in your that person’s skills. You’ll improve their mood and motivation and boost the chances of the employee and your team succeeding.
Tip 2: Stop Obsessing About Problems
Think about your job. Doesn’t it seem you’re solving problems all the time? You look for mistakes and fix them. But there’s more to being successful and happy than just spotting errors. Broaden your thinking.
“We can train our brains to scan for the positive – for the possibilities dormant in every situation – and become experts at capitalizing on the Happiness Advantage,” the author writes.
Tip 3: Shift Your Attitude About Suffering
Work is horrible sometimes. Things go wrong. We get in trouble and are sometimes blamed unfairly. We may get fired. It’s awful. What can you do about this to turn what’s so bad into something positive?
“Mindset takes center stage,” writes the author. “People’s ability to find the path up rests largely on how they conceive of the cards they have been dealt. The people who can most successfully get themselves up off the mat are those who define themselves not by what has happened to them, but by what they can make of what has happened…the most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block but as a stepping stone to greatness.”
That’s awesome and inspiring advice.
Tip 4: Emphasize Gratitude
You know this intuitively, but it’s worth reiterating: be grateful for your job, your relationships, and your ability to breathe the air and be alive.
The author writes that when researchers select random volunteers and train them to be more grateful during a period of several weeks, they become happier and more optimistic, feel more socially linked, and sleep better. Being grateful makes you more successful and happiness follows.
Tip 5: Write Down Three Good Things
This tip is simple. Every night just before you go to bed write down three good things that happened that day. It could be a small or big laugh, your boss saying you did a good job, or a new and stimulating conversation with a person’s work.
Make this a ritual every day and you’re bound to find more fulfillment and happiness in life. You’ll get into the mindset that will fulfill you.
Tip 6: Master Your Small Circle
We all can get overwhelmed by the magnitude of work projects we have to get done. Just thinking about all of it can be so daunting that we never start any of it or flounder around for days not knowing the entry point.
Here’s a way to get going: Begin small. Write a circle on a piece of paper and inside it a tiny, easily achievable task towards finishing the large project on your to-do list. The author calls this “mastering the small circle” to achieve your most ambitious goals in your career and professional life.
This focused effort will help you regain the feeling of control so vital to high performance. Once you master this first circle of actions, expand your circle to other tasks and start on them. Your momentum will pick up.
Tip 7: Smile
When you’re interacting with people you work with, smile. It seems a bit silly and may feel awkward. But there’s scientific evidence that when you smile at someone they’re inclined to smile back at you. Two people smiling at work are more likely to be more productive and happier than two glaring at each other. This is common sense yet still worth doing.
“Smiling tricks your brain into thinking you’re happy, so it starts producing the neurochemical that actually does make you happy,” the author writes. “The happier we are at work, the more positivity we transform our colleagues, teammates, and clients, which can eventually tip the emotion of an entire work team.”
Tip 8: Create Fun Outlets
You may have noticed in corporate offices more fun activities being offered to employees such as foosball games, ping pong, and in-house massage parlors. Companies aren’t providing this just to make workers happier and enjoy their days more. They’re doing it because they know, based on research, that workers who have more fun at work are more productive.
“Smart companies cultivate these kinds of working environments because every time employees experience a small burst of happiness, they get primed for creativity and innovation.”
Tip 9: Get Outside During Work
You spend countless hours inside working. But you need to get outside once in a while to breathe fresh air and take in a different environment from your desk. It breaks the monotony and recharges your mind and body to be more productive when you return. Spending 20 minutes outside boosts positive moods and broadens thinking and memory, the author writes.
“The smartest bosses encourage employees to get a breath of fresh air at least once a day, and they reap the benefits in heightened team performance.”
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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