Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, defines happiness as the experience of positive emotions combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future. The chief engine of happiness is therefore positive emotions, since happiness is, above all else, a feeling.
Data abounds showing that happy workers have higher levels of productivity, produce higher sales, perform better in leadership positions, and receive higher performance ratings and pay. They also enjoy more job security and are less likely to take sick days, to quit, or to become burned out.
At this point we might be thinking: does happiness come before success or success before happiness? If happiness were just the end of being successful, the prevailing creed at companies and schools would be correct: focus on productivity and performance, even to the detriment of our emotional and physical well-being, and we will eventually become more successful and therefore happier. But thanks to studies in positive psychology, this myth has been debunked: happiness actually precedes important outcomes. In short, we found that happiness causes success and achievement, not the opposite. Happiness can improve physical health, which in turn keeps us working faster and longer and therefore makes us more likely to succeed.
Psychologists have long known that negative emotions narrow our thoughts and range of actions, which has served an important evolutionary purpose: fight or flight. Until recently, scientists said that happiness has the only purpose to make us feel good. However, extensive research has found that happiness has a very important evolutionary purpose. Instead of narrowing our actions 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. Positive emotions not only make us more creative, they help us build more intellectual, social, and physical resources we can rely upon in the future. In a study, students who were told to think about their happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers, and people who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were neutral or negative.
There are a number of proven ways we can improve our moods and raise our level of happiness throughout the day thanks to small, momentary blips of positivity. Here are some of them.
Find something to look forward to
One study found that people who just thought about watching their favourite movie raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. If you can’t take a vacation now, put something on the calendar and whenever you need a boost of happiness remind yourself about it.
Commit conscious acts of kindness
Acts of altruism decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health. But if you want to reap the psychological benefit, make sure you do these things deliberately and consciously.
Infuse positivity into your surroundings
The physical environment can have an enormous impact on our mindset and sense of well being.
Go outside in a nice day
One study found that spending 20 minutes outside in good weather not only boosted positive mood but broadened thinking and improved working memory.
Physical activity can boost mood and enhance our work performance by helping us get into flow and unlock feeling of total engagement that we usually get when we’re at our best.
Spend money on experiences
Money spent on activities-such as concerts and group dinners out-brought far more pleasure than material purchases.
Exercise a signature strength
Each time we use a skill we experience a burst of positivity. If you find yourself in need of a happiness booster, revisit a talent you haven’t used in a while.
Meditation takes practise, but it’s one of the most powerful happiness intervention. Take just five minutes each day to watch your breath go in and out.
Tune in to positive emotions
Barbara Fredrickson, a researcher at the University of North Carolina, describes the ten most common positive emotions: joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.
Your goal is simply to lift your spirits and put you in a more positive mindset, so you can reap all the benefit of happiness. You’ll feel better but you’ll also start to notice how your enhanced positivity makes you more efficient, motivated, and productive, and opens up opportunities for greater achievement.
Adapted from Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage, Crown Publishing