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Make Happiness a Strategy, Not Just a Goal

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Make Happiness a Strategy, Not Just a Goal(GIFTBEAT)By Natalie Hammer Noblitt

Is the goal of owning your own business to eventually find happiness? With the recent economic downturn, do you find yourself worrying about how long it will take to reach your goal?

Shawn Achor, author of the recently released book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work, advises companies around the world on how to turn happiness into the means for success — not make it the end result. Achor’s research in psychology and neuroscience offers concrete strategies for making your work more satisfying and to ultimately produce better sales.

While some may be quick to judge The Happiness Advantage as just another spin on the power of positive thinking, Achor describes himself as a rational optimist who doesn’t promote being happy to the point of ignoring things in life that need fixing. Optimism, he says, is the power to believe you can change what is wrong.

He coaches the happiness advantage through seven actionable strategies that can easily be adopted by small business owners. After more than a decade of conducting research at Harvard and working with international Fortune 500 executives, Achor now teaches businesses of all sizes that individual happiness is key in promoting organizational success. He is the founder of Good Think Inc., a consulting firm using research to cultivate productive workplaces through positive habits and business practices.

When times get tough in business, Achor says there is an even greater need to examine how you approach your work. “In good times, happiness is a luxury, and in challenging times, happiness becomes a necessity,” he says. “Positivity turns your brain on and will ultimately help you increase business.”

The opposite happens when your brain is overloaded and you feel swamped. Setting large goals and having a lot of work on your plate is an easy way to become unproductive and unhappy. “Shrinking things down to manageable steps increases your brain’s productivity and helps you feel less overwhelmed. We need to prioritize happiness in the midst of a challenge.”

Although not everyone comes by happiness naturally, Achor says it can be taught. “We are all born with genes that make it either harder or easier to be happy,” he says. “But depending on your mindset and the habits you create, you can raise your happiness well above where your genes left you. If you are conscious about your actions, you can dramatically change your mindset.” His research began by studying Harvard students to find out why certain students seemed to rise to the top while others struggled. He also discovered that not only could the seven strategies make people happier, they could be applied in business settings to promote success.

Physiology drives the happiness advantage, Achor says, because positive thoughts release dopamine to your brain and that in turn stimulates the learning centers needed to work toward creative solutions. Happiness allows you to adapt faster to the world and see more possibilities than when your mind is focused on negative or neutral outcomes, he says.

Another astonishing realization as part of Achor’s work is one many people have never considered. His research finds that only 10% of long-term happiness is predicted by the external world, while 90% is actually based on how your brain processes your environment.

One of the biggest mistakes business leaders make is waiting until work is over to be happy each day. “You think, ‘If I can just get through these 8-14 hours of work, I will be happy.’ And when you do that, you underperform what your brain is capable of. Flip it around. Find some way to be positive at work and you will get your job done faster and more easily,” Achor says.

While Achor realizes some people initially don’t think they have time to enjoy work, he teaches creating habits that will help incorporate positive behaviors and attitudes into everyday activities on the job. “The goal would be to prioritize doing one positive thing each day and leave it open to what that might be. It could be encouraging someone at work, planning a social gathering or helping someone in need. Just try to infuse your day with one positive happiness booster. When you do that, you inoculate yourself against the stresses of the day.”

A central strategy in the book is what Achor calls the “Zorro Circle,” named for a lesser-known chapter in the hero’s story. “If you set your goals very big and have a lot of work to do on your plate, your brain will feel overwhelmed. The easiest way to short-circuit feeling overwhelmed is by shrinking your actions down to manageable goals you know you can be successful at. By creating concrete and manageable steps, you increase your brain’s productivity and overcome this feeling.”

Adding positive habits to your day is also among the strategies Achor teaches in his book. He advocates adding a ritual to your day where you write down three things each morning that you are grateful for in your life and business as a way to help teach your brain to be more positive. If you can do this at the start of each day for 21 days, he says, your brain will train itself to make positive thoughts a part of your day. “If you do this, even six months later your levels of optimism, happiness and performance at work improve. Your brain naturally works better at positive than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Happiness improves every single business outcome.”

While each person is only able to control his or her own happiness, Achor says, there is the benefit to the entire workplace when managers and business owners take steps to increase their optimism. Positive leaders will pass along the beneficial effects to others through mirror neurons in our brains. Achor describes mirror neurons as having the power to pick up on either the negative or positive behaviors around us.

The good news is that you can buffer your brain against negativity by actively working to be optimistic. “A single positive effect in you can ripple out to others through that mirror neuron network in the workplace,” he says. “We see this happen in a business where people are very anxious about the economy. A single positive leader in the midst of negative news can cause his or her team to remain calm as well.”

The benefits of creating a positive work environment are tangible, says Achor. His research finds that leaders can take the happiness advantage even further by working to increase positive comments directed at individuals each day. “As an example, we found that managers who increased positive comments by just one comment a day saw a 31% increase in productivity in just six months.”

With such overwhelmingly positive results gained from such small actions, Achor hopes business leaders will find that science is on their side — and that individuals do have the power to enact change when times are tough.

Note: To learn about Good Think Inc.’s consulting and speaking services, as well as more about Shawn Achor’s research, visit www.shawnachor.com.

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