Books: The Happiness Advantage, Part I

Shawn Achor
Crown Business, 2010
256 pages

Okay, I'm going to cover this book in stages (parts) because I'm having lots of thoughts about it as I'm reading, and I don't want to try and save it all up for one big blast. That would be unhealthy, I think. So I'm going to ease the valve open and let some steam out.

Let's first talk about the premise of this book. It's not terribly groundbreaking. The fundamental idea is that being happy is an element of success—as opposed to the usual idea that being successful is what will make people happy. Even just a little bit of common sense makes this notion passable; after all, if success made people happy, they'd only need to be successful in one thing, one time, to have a lifetime of good feelings. But no. Being successful in something usually results in yet another goal to be achieved. Soon life becomes a long series of "if only" and "when" and the happiness never happens because, in this mindset at least, there is no final destination.

Fair enough. Achor spends a number of pages backing all this up with scientific studies to prove his point, but they're not really necessary to convince the reader. We get it. It's not such a revolutionary idea.

Achor also spends a lot of time telling anecdotes about his traveling around giving talks all over the world. The reader doesn't really need these either. In fact, so far I've spent a lot of my reading time thinking, Get to the point. A lot of the book (so far) is just so much padding.

Having established that positivity aids in success, performance, productivity, etc., Achor does finally suggest ways to be more positive. These turn out not to be any more mind blowing than his thesis. He lists things like meditation and exercise, getting away from your desk every so often (take a walk, chat up a co-worker), or taking time to view a funny online video. In Achor's big picture, these little mood boosters, if done regularly to the point of becoming habit, will increase positivity in increments and therefore bring the benefits of success. One simply needs to re-train one's mind to a new way of thinking, a more positive perspective on the world.

Okay, look. I have my down days, but on the whole I've been an optimist most of my life. When I write and send something off, I envision good things happening. But I'm often disappointed. This is because no matter how positive I am about my work, it doesn't mean someone else will be. My positivity doesn't really influence these people reading my scripts and stories. Thus, so far Achor's advice comes up to very little for me.

One interesting suggestion Achor had was to utilize one's natural talents and strengths. Apparently people show a greater level of satisfaction with life when they stretch those muscles. Achor sends his readers to an online site to take a 240-question survey to identify those strengths. (After you answer the questions, scroll to the bottom of the results page for a free option.) For the curious, here were my results:

Your Top Character Strength


Thinking things through and examining them from all sides are important aspects of who you are. You do not jump to conclusions, and you rely only on solid evidence to make your decisions. You are able to change your mind.

Your Second Character Strength

Appreciation of Beauty & Excellence

You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.

Your Third Character Strength


Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are. You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.

Your Fourth Character Strength

Love of learning

You love learning new things, whether in a class or on your own. You have always loved school, reading, and museums—anywhere and everywhere there is an opportunity to learn.

Your Fifth Character Strength


You are curious about everything. You are always asking questions, and you find all subjects and topics fascinating. You like exploration and discovery.

Character Strength #6

Social intelligence

You are aware of the motives and feelings of other people. You know what to do to fit in to different social situations, and you know what to do to put others at ease.

Character Strength #7


Although you may not think of yourself as wise, your friends hold this view of you. They value your perspective on matters and turn to you for advice. You have a way of looking at the world that makes sense to others and to yourself. 

I'll stop there to avoid boring you with more of my stellar traits; there were 24 total on the list, including Fairness and Humor, two of which I'm very proud and was surprised to find were not at the top (they were #10 and #11).

In any event, I'm not sure exactly how I'm supposed to incorporate Judgment into more of my day-to-day existence, short of becoming a detective of some kind. Hmm. And yes, I'm being facetious here, but the point is that Achor is being very glib and rudimentary about his advice; so far there is little I can take away and really use.

It's better to be happy. Yes. Being happier makes you more successful and productive. Yes, okay. These little things are some ways you might be able to be happier. ::nodding:: But what if they don't work? What if these are things you've already tried? How can you get others to be as enthusiastic about your work as you are (thus becoming more successful, if, like me, you work in a world that requires others to buy into your vision)?

In the portion of the book I'm currently reading, Achor has gone through some scientific studies and experiments that show a person's way of thinking can bring physical, concrete changes. (Think: placebos.) But in every example, the physical changes are only in the person him- or herself. The person loses weight or gets over a cold or whatever. I still have yet to see how being the best me I can be—the most positive, enthusiastic, whatever—can translate into others producing my work. Maybe Achor will get to that part somewhere later in the book. I hope so. I need all the help I can get.

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