Do you watch the local news? What if I suggested that watching your local news (if it’s anything like mine – full of fires, murders, car accidents and mildly accurate weather forecasts) decreased your overall happiness and success? What if spending those 30 minutes in front of your TV cast a negative tone across your whole life and got in the way of creative and effective problem solving in your day to day endeavors? Too much of a leap? The author of Before Happiness thinks not.
Author Shawn Achor didn’t say those words exactly in his book Before Happiness, but he pretty much implied it (at least based on my interpretations of the book). As an assignment for work, I had the opportunity to read this book with the hope that we could implement some of the author’s findings in our jobs. I don’t believe we’re unhappy as a group at work, but Achor posits that a few controllable changes in the way we perceive our jobs and lives can dramatically increase success, engagement and fulfillment both personally and professionally. If he’s right, I’m intrigued (as was my boss who requested we read the book, obviously).
The author concludes through extensive research that we can essentially create success and happiness simply by believing that they are possible. That’s not to say you can stand on the roof of your house, believe you can fly, and miraculously start soaring through the air. The positive realities we believe have to be just that, plausible realities. But far more of the “uncontrollable facts and circumstances” we perceive to be unchangeable in life aren’t so inflexible. There’s almost always an option to change our perspective and view the exact same situation in a realistic yet more positive and productive light.
Great news for all us, anyone can learn to create positive realities. While some of us might be more naturally adept at seeing the positive aspects of a situation , we can all train our minds to create them. To do this, we need to find meaning in our lives to start mapping a path to success that is full of meaning markers along the way. What routes can we take to meet goals that track along meaningful paths and fulfill important agendas along the way?
How can we frame our circumstances in a positive reality and become a positive genius? We need to build the positive perspective into our subconscious so our conscious intelligence (IQ, emotional and social intelligence) can command the capacity of our conscious thought while the positive reality (the true belief that a good solution is available) lies as the subconscious backdrop to the problem solving efforts.
This doesn’t mean ignoring the bad. Instead we recognize it but acknowledge that also there are good things to consider and for which we can be grateful. We focus on how we can use the positive aspects of our circumstances to engage and encourage us to push forward to achieve our goals.
Achor offers a few ways we can train ourselves to find and create meaning markers in life and foster positive realities each day.
Random Acts of Kindness
Performing random acts of kindness generates more positive realities. This can be for strangers, coworkers, family, friends, or really anyone. Options to perform such random acts are endless. But one option I’ve considered are notes to friends and family.
I’ve mentioned before I’m not a huge fan of subscription services, though there are a few here and there that strike my fancy. Nicely Noted is one of the few that intrigues me. Through this subscription, you receive three handmade note cards and three stamps each month. (How ingenious that the stamps are included, right?) I’m not much of a note writer, but I wonder if having the fun cards and stamps so readily available might be the trigger to encourage me to more actively write a meaingful note here and there to family and friends.
Whatever types of random acts of kindness you prefer, we gain more happiness and success from the social support of helping others rather than the social support of being helped by others. “Work altruists are 10 times more likely to be highly engaged than work idolatrous, people who don’t actively support others,” Achor says. So those random acts of kindness actually have as much or more selfish benefit than impact on the recipient. (Don’t be discouraged by this. Just consider the selfish reward an additional motivation to do more random acts of kindness.)
Clear the Negative Chatter
Our lives are filled with negative messages and chatter. Some of it we welcome in and some of it find its way to use and we just don’t actively push it away. Research shows, however, that this negative chatter has a meaningful impact on our overall happiness. Often, the negative noise is unusable, untimely, hypothetical or distracting. There’s nothing we can or should do about it, yet it still brings us down.
Local news, gossip at work, or whatever form in which we find it, contesting the negative soundtrack of life and refilling the space with more positive signals can significantly increase our overall happiness.
Keep a Gratitude Journal
Begin to crowd out that noise with positive thoughts and meaning markets in everyday routines. Achor suggests writing down three things each day for which we’re grateful (for at least 21 consecutive days) to retrain our brain to positively map meaning in our lives and see things through a more positive filter.
I have a skinny little Moleskin notebook in which I’ve been doing for this 32 days. I missed a couple days along the way but the more I practice, the better I get.
If any of this sounds up your alley, be sure to check out Achor’s full Ted Talk. You may enjoy reading his book as well, which (obviously) takes a much deeper dive into the research and implementation of the findings.
Cheers to taking small steps to the road to ever more happiness.