The Happiness Advantage
The Happiness Advantage summary

The Happiness Advantage

Rating: 8.5/10

Author: Shawn Anchor Read The Original

High-Level Thoughts

Really enjoyed reading this book. Even though this book was written almost a decade ago I believe all the principles apply perfectly to what we as a species are going through today. So many eye opening case studies and statistics. Media has portrayed the angry, unhappy, unsatisfied people as the ones at the top but that is rarely the case. I must also admit I bought into this image, but after finishing this book I came to the conclusion that I would be an idiot not to choose to be happy considering all the advantages it gives me. Another important note is the author isn't saying be happy ALL the time, but instead cultivate the practice of gratitude and trying to see the positive in all circumstances.

The Happiness Advantage Summary

The Book in 3 Sentences

  • Instead of narrowing our actions down to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive ones broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas.
  • Happiness is a skill that can be developed through constant practice.
  • A spotless résumé is not nearly as promising as one that showcases defeat and growth.

Principle #1: The Happiness Advantage

  • That’s because there is no single meaning; happiness is relative to the person experiencing it. This is why scientists often refer to it as “subjective well-being”—because it’s based on how we each feel about our own lives.
  • Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future. Martin Seligman, the pioneer in positive psychology, has broken it down into three, measurable components: pleasure, engagement, and meaning.
  • Perhaps the most accurate term for happiness, then, is the one Aristotle used: eudaimonia, which translates not directly to “happiness” but to “human flourishing.” This definition really resonates with me because it acknowledges that happiness is not all about yellow smiley faces and rainbows. For me, happiness is the joy we feel striving after our potential.
  • Instead of narrowing our actions down to fight or flight as negative emotions do, positive ones broaden the amount of possibilities we process, making us more thoughtful, creative, and open to new ideas.
  • primed to be happy significantly outperformed the others, completing the task both more quickly and with fewer errors.
  • For instance, students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers.
  • The implications of these studies are undeniable: People who put their heads down and wait for work to bring eventual happiness put themselves at a huge disadvantage, while those who capitalize on positivity every chance they get come out ahead.
  • "all it took was a small gift of candy right before they started the task. (And they didn’t even get to eat the candy, to ensure that heightened blood sugar levels didn’t affect the results.) This reveals something important about the Happiness Advantage in action: Even the smallest shots of positivity can give someone a serious competitive edge."
  • In other words, a quick burst of positive emotions doesn’t just broaden our cognitive capacity; it also provides a quick and powerful antidote to stress and anxiety, which in turn improves our focus and our ability to function at our best level.
  • visualizing himself giving a clear and cogent presentation, recalling a past instance when he made a successful business pitch did wonders to get rid of his anxiety.
  • While we each have a happiness baseline that we fluctuate around on a daily basis, with concerted effort, we can raise that baseline permanently so that even when we are going up and down, we are doing so at a higher level.
  • Meditate. Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating actually grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy.
  • And, research even shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress, even improve immune function.
  • Find Something to Look Forward To. One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.
  • Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness. A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism—giving to friends and strangers alike—decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.
  • Infuse Positivity Into Your Surroundings.
  • Psychologists have found that people who watch less TV are actually more accurate judges of life’s risks and rewards than those who subject themselves to the tales of crime, tragedy, and death that appear night after night on the ten o’clock news.32 That’s because these people are less likely to see sensationalized or one-sided sources of information, and thus see reality more clearly.
  • Exercise. You have probably heard that exercise releases pleasure-inducing chemicals called endorphins, but that’s not its only benefit. Physical activity can boost mood and enhance our work performance in a number of other ways as well, by improving motivation and feelings of mastery, reducing stress and anxiety.
  • Spend Money (but Not on Stuff).
  • Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.
  • Based on Losada’s extensive mathematical modeling, 2.9013 is the ratio of positive to negative interactions necessary to make a corporate team successful. This means that it takes about three positive comments, experiences, or expressions to fend off the languishing effects of one negative. Dip below this tipping point, now known as the Losada Line and workplace performance quickly suffers.

PRINCIPLE #2 THE FULCRUM AND THE LEVER Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset

  • “reality" is merely our brain’s relative understanding of the world based on where and how we are observing it.
  • Japanese researchers blindfolded a group of students and told them their right arms were being rubbed with a poison ivy plant.3 Afterward, all 13 of the students’ arms reacted with the classic symptoms of poison ivy: itching, boils, and redness. Not surprising … until you find out that the plant used for the study wasn’t poison ivy at all, just a harmless shrub. The students’ beliefs were actually strong enough to create the biological effects of poison ivy, even though no such plant had touched them.
  • The mental construction of our daily activities, more than the activity itself, defines our reality.
  • Turn a piece of paper horizontally, and on the left hand side write down a task you’re forced to perform at work that feels devoid of meaning. Then ask yourself: What is the purpose of this task? What will it accomplish? Draw an arrow to the right and write this answer down. If what you wrote still seems unimportant, ask yourself again: What does this result lead to? Draw another arrow and write this down. Keep going until you get to a result that is meaningful to you. In this
  • This phenomenon is called the Pygmalion Effect: when our belief in another person’s potential brings that potential to life.

PRINCIPLE #3 THE TETRIS EFFECT Training Your Brain to Capitalize on Possibility

  • Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals.
  • Studies have shown that optimists set more goals (and more difficult goals) than pessimists, and put more effort into attaining those goals, stay more engaged in the face of difficulty, and rise above obstacles more easily.
  • Optimists also cope better in high stress situations and are better able to maintain high levels of well-being during times of hardship—all skills that are crucial to high performance in a demanding work environment.
  • Wiseman asked volunteers to read through a newspaper and count how many photos were in it. The people who claimed to be lucky took mere seconds to accomplish this task, while the unlucky ones took an average of two minutes. Why? Well, on the second page of the newspaper a very large message read: “Stop counting, there are 43 photos in this newspaper.” The answer, in short, was plain as day, but the unlucky people were far more likely to miss it, while the lucky people tended to see it.
  • participants who wrote down three good things each day for a week were happier and less depressed at the one-month, three-month, and six-month follow-ups.16 More amazing: Even after stopping the exercise, they remained significantly happier and showed higher levels of optimism.

PRINCIPAL #4 FALLING UP Capitalizing on the Downs to Build Upward Momentum

  • On every mental map after crisis or adversity, there are three mental paths. One that keeps circling around where you currently are (i.e., the negative event creates no change; you end where you start). Another mental path leads you toward further negative consequences (i.e., you are far worse off after the negative event; this path is why we are afraid of conflict and challenge). And one, which I call the Third Path, that leads us from failure or setback to a place where we are even stronger and more capable than before the fall.
  • In fact, when we feel helpless and hopeless, we stop believing such a path even exists—so we don’t even bother to look for it. But this is the very path we should be looking for, because, as we’ll see, our ability to find the Third Path is the difference between those who are crippled by failure and those who rise above it. Study after study shows that if we are able to conceive of a failure as an opportunity for growth, we are all the more likely to experience that growth.
  • A spotless résumé is not nearly as promising as one that showcases defeat and growth.
  • two shoe salesmen who were sent to Africa in the early 1900s to assess opportunities. They wired separate telegrams back to their boss. One read: “Situation hopeless. They don’t wear shoes.” The other read: “Glorious opportunity! They don’t have any shoes yet.”
  • “crises can be catalysts for creativity.”19 Leaders who become paralyzed by the obstacles in front of them miss this great opportunity.
  • A counterfact is an alternate scenario our brains create to help us evaluate and make sense of what really happened.20 Here’s what I mean. The people who saw the outcome as unlucky imagined an alternate scenario of not having been shot at all; in comparison, their outcome seems very unfortunate. But the other group invented a very different alternate scenario: that they could have gotten shot in the head and died, or that many other people could have been hurt. Compared with that, surviving is very fortunate. Here is the crucial part: Both the counterfacts are completely hypothetical. Because it’s invented, we actually have the power in any given situation to consciously select a counterfact that makes us feel fortunate rather than helpless. And choosing a positive counterfact, besides simply making us feel better, sets ourselves up for the whole host of benefits to motivation and performance we now know accompanies a positive mindset.
  • “immune neglect,” which means we consistently forget how good our psychological immune system is at helping us get over adversity.

PRINCIPLE #5 THE ZORRO CIRCLE How Limiting Your Focus to Small, Manageable Goals Can Expand Your Sphere of Power

  • But none of these achievements would ever have been possible had he not first learned to master that small circle. Before that moment, Alejandro had no command over his emotions, no sense of his own skill, no real faith in his ability to accomplish a goal, and—worst of all—no feeling of control over his own fate.
  • Richard Davidson used his expertise in neuroscience to pinpoint why certain people were particularly resilient in the face of stress while others were so easily debilitated by it. He put both groups in identical high-stress situations, like solving difficult math problems in a short amount of time or writing about the most upsetting moment of their lives, while he simultaneously tracked their brain function using functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging, or fMRI. As each subject tackled the challenge at hand, Davidson watched both the rational and reflexive parts of the brain light up on the brain scan, dueling for supremacy. When he compared the patterns, he found that in the resilient individuals, the prefrontal cortex rapidly won over the limbic system; in other words, the Thinker took over almost immediately from the Jerk. The easily troubled group, on the other hand, exhibited a continuous rise in amygdala activity, which meant that the Jerk had hijacked the Thinker, overwhelming the brain’s reasoning and coping capabilities, and making the distress much worse.

PRINCIPLE #6 THE 20-SECOND RULE How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Ones by Minimizing Barriers to Change

  • Common sense is not common action.
  • not to eat anything for at least three hours prior to the experiment.8 Then he split them into three groups. Group 1 was given a plate of chocolate chip cookies, which they were told not to eat, as well as a healthy plate of radishes which they were welcome to eat to their heart’s content. Group 2 was presented with the same two plates of cookies and radishes, but they were told they could eat off whichever plate they liked. Group 3 was given no food at all. After enduring these situations for a significant length of time, the three groups were then given a set of “simple” geometric puzzles to solve. Note the quotes around simple. In truth, this was another one of psychology’s favorite tools: the unsolvable puzzle. As I learned the hard way through my Help the Elderly experience, psychology researchers love using impossible games to see how long participants will persevere at a task. In this case, individuals in Groups 2 and 3 long outlasted those in Group 1, who quickly threw up their hands in defeat. Why? Because the students who had to use every ounce of their willpower to avoid eating the enticing chocolate chip cookies didn’t have the willpower or mental energy left to struggle with a complex puzzle—even though avoiding cookies and persisting on a puzzle are seemingly completely unrelated.
  • Studies have found that American teenagers are two and half times more likely to experience elevated enjoyment when engaged in a hobby than when watching TV, and three times more likely when playing a sport.
  • And yet here’s the paradox: These same teenagers spend four times as many hours watching TV as they do engaging in sports or hobbies. So what gives? Or, as psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi put it more eloquently, “Why would we spend four times more time doing something that has less than half the chance of making us feel good?”12 The answer is that we are drawn—powerfully, magnetically—to those things that are easy, convenient, and habitual, and it is incredibly difficult to overcome this inertia.
  • At the grocery store, we buy more food off shelves that directly meet our eye and less off those that require us to look up or kneel down.14 Every retailer knows this, and you can be sure they exploit it by putting the most expensive brands at eye level.
  • “distracting oneself used to consist of sharpening a half-dozen pencils or lighting a cigarette. Today, there is a universe of diversions to buy, hear, watch and forward, which makes focusing on a task all the more challenging.”
  • ^^Technology may make it easier for us to save time, but it also makes it a whole lot easier for us to waste it. In short, distraction, always just one click away, has become the path of least resistance. ^^
  • I like to refer to this as the 20-Second Rule, because lowering the barrier to change by just 20 seconds was all it took to help me form a new life habit.

PRINCIPLE #7 SOCIAL INVESTMENT Why Social Support Is Your Single Greatest Asset

  • In a study appropriately titled “Very Happy People,” researchers sought out the characteristics of the happiest 10 percent among us.4 Do they all live in warm climates? Are they all wealthy? Are they all physically fit? Turns out, there was one—and only one—characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else: the strength of their social relationships.
  • Researchers found that social bonds weren’t just predictive of overall happiness, but also of eventual career achievement, occupational success, and income.
  • Other companies, like Southwest Airlines, Domino’s Pizza, and The Limited, have set up programs that foster social investment, literally, by allowing employees to donate money to colleagues confronted with medical and financial emergencies.30 The result is that the employees involved (and even those who aren’t, but simply know the program is there) feel a greater commitment to one another, and also to the company as a whole.
  • But an interesting new body of research suggests that how we support people during good times, more than bad times, affects the quality of a relationship. Sharing upbeat news with someone is called “capitalization,” and it helps multiply the benefits of the positive event as well as strengthen the bond between the two people involved.
  • And in everyday life, both at work and at home, our social support can prove the difference between succumbing to the cult of the average and achieving our fullest potential.


  • As James Fowler explains it, “I know that I’m not just having an impact on my son, I’m potentially having an impact on my son’s best friend’s mother.”2 This influence adds up;
  • As we now know, people in positive moods are better able to think creatively and logically, and to engage in complex problem solving, even be better negotiators.

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