Sunday, February 27, 2011

Seven Principles to Happiness

Everyone faces some stress at work and in life.  Regardless of how happy one may be.   Shawn Achor is at the cutting edge of positive psychology, a new branch of psychology that finds and nurtures genius and talent,  while striving to make normal life more fulfilling.  Rather than not simply to treating mental illness, the emerging field of positive psychology is intended to complement, not to replace traditional psychology.   Although librarianship and academia are spaces of social networks, they are also nodes of critical inquiry and draconian debates -- not often ingredients for pleasantries, let alone, goodwill.

In his new book, the Happiness Advantage, Achor looks at the seven basic principles that we can all use to boost our happiness level.  Why do we need this?   Well, simply because it also supports our well being as well as effectiveness at work.   By scientifically studying what has gone right, rather than wrong in both individuals and societies, positive psychology is actually an interesting starting point in examining our work lives as well as personal lives.  Happiness leads to success in almost every domain of our lives: marriage, health, friendships, community participation, creativity, jobs, careers, businesses.   So how do we do it?  
Happiness Advantage -  Giving quick "jolts" of happiness is important.  Find something to look forward to each day - each little item counts one more bit towards that goal of happiness.  Infuse positivity into your surroundings.  Exercise more.  Spend money on experiences.  Commit conscious acts of kindess.  Give positive feedback.  Engage in activities you enjoy while working.  What we want to do is reach the critical mass of happiness that will snowball into long-term content.

The Fulcrum and the Lever - Archimedes once said, "Give me a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, and I shall move the world."  What this metaphorically means is that our minds are our realities.  Einstein's relativity doesn't end with just physics: we can actually use our relative experiences of the workday to the best of our advantages.  Our realities are how we view it. Make meaning in your job.  Rewrite your job description into something meaningful for you: make it your calling.  This can work with those around us, for Achor dubs this the "pygmalion" effect, that our belief in a person's potential can actually bring that potential to life.  The heart of this challenge is to cease interpreting the world as fixed when reality is relative.

The Tetris Effect - Just like the game of tetris, a psychology experiment proved that people tend to perceive their world in mere tetris blocks after playing the game for hours on end.  Similarly, people can also be unable to break a pattern of thinking or behaving after a while of being conditioned to it.   This can have detrimental effects when our selective perception warps us into actively searching for something when it's not even there.  The trick is then to turn this into a "positive tetris effect" in which we infuse our minds with gratitude and optimism.  Psychology experiment after experiment have shown that positive people tend to solve puzzles more quickly and spot errors more accurately.  By listing all the good things we have in life, getting stuck in the positive tetris effect can be productive.

Falling Up - Being able to battle through adversity is all the difference to leading a happy life. Helplessness is a learned behaviour and the sooner we can rebound from failures the sooner we can pave the way for happiness. Crises are in fact, a catalyst for happiness.  Rather than seeing life as a series of successes and setbacks, there is a third path: falling upwards.  Success is much more than mere resilience; rather, it is about  redirecting downward spirals to propel ourselves in the opposite direction so that we can capitalize on setbacks and adversity to become even happier. 

Zorro Circle - This is a beautiful metaphor: Zorro became an expert, swashbuckling hero after his aging master Don Diego instructed the young man to learn his craft inside a small circle until he could expand his repertoire to hanging off chandeliers and handling five enemies with one swoosh of his sword.  The same goes for our lives: we simply can't expect to reverse our lives in one day, neither can we run a marathon in under an hour.  The trick is to regain control aspect of our lives one circle at a time, making it so manageable that it is almost effortless, and gradually expanding it until we reach our goal.  Small successes can add up over time.  But it takes drawing that first small circle.

The 20 Second Rule - Sure, we are probably thinking this already: this is common sense, right?   But as Achor puts it, common sense is not common action. As we are mere bundles of habits (and bad ones usually), we don't consciously work towards good habits.  Willpower usually takes us only so far; much of the time, it doesn't take us anywhere at all.  Rather than using willpower, we need to create the path of least resistance so that our lazy minds won't need to consciously use willpower. The key is to create habits as ritual, repeated practice, until the actions become ingrained in our brain's natural chemistry.  If it means hiding the email icon to stop us from consciously looking to email in order to improve our productivity at work, then do it.  By as little as 20 seconds at a time, it means an investment where forming one today will automatically give out returns for years to come.

Social Investment - The best investment we can make is our support networks.  In times of crises, experiments have shown that those who lack support are those most prone to continuing the downward spiral.  Surrounded by our support networks, whether at home or at work, big challenges feel more manageable and small challenges don't even registar on the radar.  Our social support prevents stress from knocking us down and getting in the way of our achieving our goals.   The most innovative artists and scientists worked as part of a group.  Social connections motivate.  As a result, social relationships are the greatest predictors of both happiness and high performance. So it's time to make that investment.

1 comment:

Jacqueline Johns - Your Happy Life Mentor said...

Great post!

I especially like the 20 second rule.

I often find myself explaining that life is a constant stream of decisions. Sometimes the 5-secondly micro-decisions are having the biggest impact on our lives. What is we actually spend time doing? That's life.

Live Life Happy!