Book Review: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

Katie Butler

August 27, 2017

The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

The Happiness Advantage is arguably one of the most insightful books I’ve ever read. That includes both fiction and nonfiction, both the Harry Potter series and Tina Fey’s: Bossypants. I mention those titles because I hold them dear to my heart, but also to explain my level enthusiasm for this book.

You may dread the idea of reading a nonfiction, self-help book about happiness. But, you shouldn’t. Why? Because the stories told in this book weren’t all about happiness. In fact, the stories centered around very realistic, not idealistic, ordinary days. They were relevant and relatable because they tell a story not so far fetched from our own.

In a time of continuous self-improvement, it is difficult to maintain happiness. Mostly because, as we’ve learned, happiness cannot be maintained. You have happiness because you learn to appreciate the moments that create it. Happiness is not a feeling but a mindset, rather, or so Shawn Achor believes. Below, you can find a few of my favorite take-aways.

We Aren’t Saving the Dolphins

The Happiness Advantage is a lecture that has been given all over the world. Many have had the privilege of introducing Achor before these lectures. One such introduction story is included in this book. The leader of this company ended his introduction of Achor with this: “To be honest, it has to be about money: We’re not saving the dolphins here.”

With this example, Achor discusses a leadership style that we have all witnessed, and many have had the misfortune of working under. The kind of leadership that doesn’t see the bigger picture for you or for your company. The idea that because your company isn’t ‘saving the dolphins,’ your work isn’t meaningful.

“The fastest way to disengage an employee is to tell him his work is meaningful only because of the paycheck.”

Leaders can move past this mindset by changing the way they view the work. Achor continues to encourage his readers to “rewrite their job description into a ‘calling description.’ The goal is not to misrepresent the work they do, but to highlight the meaning that can be derived from it.” By changing the way leadership and its employees view day-to-day tasks, a happiness mindset can be achieved. And that is something that we could all use a little more of.

The Tetris Effect

The Tetris Effect is the psychological effect that many experienced when the game Tetris was introduced. The idea was that after many hours of playing Tetris, the gamers began to see the shapes of Tetris everywhere they looked; in buildings on the street, in the fridge, in their work. Achor continued to explain how this same concept can be applied in other areas of our lives.

He notes that a repeated pattern, much like Tetris, can train your brain to continue that pattern in other areas. His example is that tax auditors are trained to find problems; therefore, they trained their brains to find problems in not only audits, but in their lives. Identifying this trait is the first step in retraining yourself to maintain positive habits. For example, writing down three positive things every day can help you continue to see the positives in other areas of your life.

“Falling into a positive Tetris effect helps leaders give more frequent recognition and encouragement […] It makes meaning and purpose in your job more apparent, so that you can start connecting to your calling.”

Change Your Counterfact

Achor proposes a scenario that causes you to consider how you approach each and every situation. He proposes that you consider a scenario in which you enter a bank. There are 50 people in this bank: men, women, and children. A robber enters the bank, and you get shot in the arm.

At this point you can choose your counterfact. You can can create a positive counterfact, or you can create a negative counterfact. In this scenario, a positive counterfact would be: “How fortunate that I was the only one shot…”, and a negative counterfact would be: “I could’ve went to the bank down the street and never had this happen to me.” Since both counterfacts are hypothetical, you can choose which one to believe, thus changing how you see the world.

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Shawn Achor has spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing about happiness. He gives powerful insight like no one else. Did you love this book? What was your favorite story? Have a book recommendation? We’d love to hear it! Let us know!

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