Shawn Achor and Sonja Lyubomirsky on Happiness

As Shawn Achor explores how happiness fuels well-being and performance and offers “seven specific, actionable, and proven patterns that predict success and achievement”, Sonja Lyubomirsky explores the “creation or construction of happiness” and the “most important factors determining happiness” to offer an “ongoing happiness-enhancing program” with “five hows (or keys) behind sustainable well-being.”

Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage

In The Happiness Advantage (What is the Happiness Advantage?), Positive Intelligence, The Happiness Work Ethic, and The happy secret to better work, Shawn Achor explores how happiness fuels well-being and performance:

Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement — giving us the competitive edge that I call the Happiness Advantage.

The single greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged workforce.

The “happiness advantage” is the discovery that nearly every single business outcome improves when a brain is positive as opposed to negative, neutral, or stressed.

In a sweeping meta-analysis of 225 academic studies, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener found that happy employees have, on average, 31% higher productivity; their sales are 37% higher; their creativity is three times higher.

Achor emphasizes that “if we study merely what is average, we will remain merely average” and that “happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change; it is the realization that we can”; and thus offers “seven specific, actionable, and proven patterns that predict success and achievement.”


The Happiness Advantage: How Happiness Gives Your Brain — and Your Organization — the Competitive Edge

The Happiness Advantage — Because positive brains have a biological advantage over brains that are neutral or negative, this principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to capitalize on positivity and improve our productivity and performance.

So how do the scientists define happiness? Essentially, as the experience of positive emotions — pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose.

The chief engine of happiness is positive emotions, since happiness is, above all else, a feeling. In fact, some researchers prefer the term “positive emotions” or “positivity” to “happiness” because, while they are essentially synonyms, happiness is a far more vague and unwieldy term. Barbra Fredrickson, a research at the University of North Carolina and perhaps the world’s leading expert on the subject, describes the ten most common positive emotions: Joy, gratitude, serenity, interest, hope, pride, amusement, inspiration, awe, and love.

Happiness precedes important outcomes and indicators of thriving.

Happiness causes success and achievement, not the opposite.

This principle emphasizes the importance of positive emotions (including pleasure, meaning, and purpose) in fostering performance.

The Fulcrum and the Lever: Changing Your Performance by Changing Your Mindset

The Fulcrum and the Lever — How we experience the world, and our ability to succeed within it, constantly changes based on our mindset. This principle teaches us how we can adjust our mindset (our fulcrum) in a way that gives us the power (the lever) to be more fulfilled and successful.

The mental construction of our daily activities, more than the activity itself, defines our reality.

This principle emphasizes the importance of mindset in how we experience the world.

The Tetris Effect: Training Your Brain to Capitalize on Possibility

The Tetris Effect — When our brains get stuck in a pattern that focuses on stress, negativity, and failure, we set ourselves up to fail. This principle teaches us how to retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility, so we can see — and seize — opportunity wherever we look.

This principle emphasizes the importance of focus.

Falling Up: Capitalizing on the Downs to Build Upward Momentum

Falling Up — In the midst of defeat, stress, and crisis, our brains map different paths to help us cope. This principle is about finding the mental path that not only leads us up out of failure or suffering, but teaches us to be happier and more successful because of it.

This principle emphasizes the importance of coping with defeat, stress, and crisis.

The Zorro Circle: How Limiting Your Focus to Small, Manageable Goals Can Expand Your Sphere of Power

The Zorro Circle — When challenges loom and we get overwhelmed, our rational brains can get hijacked by emotions. This principle teaches us how to regain control by focusing first on small, manageable goals, and then gradually expanding our circle to achieve bigger and bigger ones.

This principle emphasizes the importance of regaining control (that is, coping with defeat, stress, and crissi) by focusing on goals.

The 20-Second Rule: How to Turn Bad Habits into Good Ones by Minimizing Barriers to Change

The 20-Second Rule — Sustaining lasting change often feels impossible because our willpower is limited. And when willpower fails, we fall back on our old habits and succumb to the path of least resistance. This principle shows how, by making small energy adjustments, we can reroute the path of least resistance and replace bad habits with good ones.

This principle emphasizes the importance of replacing bad habits.

Social Investment: Why Social Support Is Your Single Greatest Asset

Social Investment — In the midst of challenges and stress, some people choose to hunker down and retreat within themselves. But most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family members to propel themselves forward. This principle teaches us how to invest more in one of the greatest predictors of success and excellence — our social support network.

This principle emphasizes the importance of social support.

Sonja Lyubomirsky’s The How of Happiness

In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky explores the “creation or construction of happiness” and the “most important factors determining happiness”:

50 percent of the differences among people’s happiness levels can be accounted for by their genetically determined set points.

10 percent of the variance in our happiness levels is explained by differences in life circumstances or situations.

40 percent of the differences in our happiness levels are still left unexplained. What makes up this 40 percent? Besides our genes and the situations that we confront, there is one critical thing left: our behavior.

50 percent of individual differences in happiness are governed by genes, 10 percent by life circumstances, and the remaining 40 perfect by what we do and how we think — that is, our intentional activities and strategies.

I use the term happiness to refer to the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile. However, most of us don’t need a definition of happiness because we instinctively know whether we are happy or not. Academic researchers prefer the term subjective well-being (or simply well-being) because it sounds more scientific and does not carry the weight of centuries of historical, literary, and philosophical subtexts.

Happiness is inherently subjective and must be defined form the perceptive of the person.

Lyubomirsky then describes an “ongoing happiness-enhancing program” with “five hows (or keys) behind sustainable well-being.”


The First How: Positive Emotion

Frequent positive emotions — feelings of joy, delight, contentment, serenity, curiosity, interest, vitality, enthusiasm, vigor, thrill, and pride — are the very hallmark of happiness.

Fist, we have already seen that happiness activities boost positive emotions.

A second benefit of happiness activities is that they boost positive thinking.

Third, happiness activities encourage positive experiences.

This principle emphasizes the importance of positive emotions, thinking, and experiences.

The Second How: Optimal Timing and Variety

‘to be happy you have to find variety in repetition.’ It may seem like puzzling phrasing, even an oxymoron, but it actually comes close to what I mean here by the suggestion to vary the way you implement your happiness activities. On the one hand, there’s routine and habit — the habit of initiating the behavior in the first place — and on the other hand, there’s how you do it, which cannot always be the same or you’ll adapt to it and end up feeling the same as when you started.

This principle emphasizes the importance of the repetition and variety of activities.

The Third How: Social Support

This jargon is used by psychologists to represent all kinds of help and comfort provided by others, especially those with whom we have strong, meaningful relationships.

This principle emphasizes the importance of social support.

The Fourth How: Motivation, Effort, and Commitment

You must resolve to undertake a program to become happier.

You must learn what you need to do.

You must put weekly or event daily effort into it.

You must commit to the goal for a long period of time, possibly for the rest of your life.

This principle emphasizes the importance of resolution, effort, and commitment.

The Fifth How: Habit

Labeled “habitual” because you don’t have to make the decision to do them. They are not intentional acts.

Habits form with repetition and practice. Researchers theorize that every time you repeat a behavior (such as going jogging in the morning), associations develop in your memory between the behavior and the context in which it occurs. With repletion, the contextual cues (the alarm clock ringing) automatically trigger the habitual behavior (donning running shoes), such that the behavior eventually switches from the direction of controlled processing to automatic processing. To apply this to happiness strategies, the more often you initiate a positive activity, the stronger the connection becomes between the activity and the cues around you.

This principle emphasizes the importance of forming habits.


By exploring Achor’s and Lyubomirsky’s contributions, various considerations emerge:

  • We are quintessentially emotional (not merely rationale) animals.
  • Our mindsets determine how we experience reality.
  • We focus and cope with the reality we experience, which requires timing, variation, motivation, effort and commitment.
  • We are creatures of habit.
  • We are social animals.
  • Positive emotions fuel performance.

See Achor’s and Lyubomirsky’s work for more!


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