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“My experience is what I agree to attend to.” ~William James

I’m excited to share a fantastic book with you by psychologist Shawn Achor about changing our approach to success and happiness. In the appropriately titled The Happiness Advantage, Achor explores how “conventional wisdom” states that if we work hard, we will succeed and then find happiness. If I can just get that promotion, find the perfect mate, gain the muscle mass, then I will be happy. Achor says, no, it’s the other away around. This principle reminds me of an anonymous quote I was told recently, “Be happy as you await happiness.” The message is that we must accept where we are, and find enjoyment in the process as we work toward the desired goal. The means must be as rewarding as the result because “happiness is the center around which success orbits” (61).

For over a decade, Achor researched and taught positive psychology techniques to maximize happiness and improve potential. His focus is primarily about how we can raise our effectiveness at work in a corporate setting, but his concepts are applicable to all aspects of our lives. In this passage, he explains we have a choice about how we look at the world:

…Our brains are like single processors capable of devoting only a finite amount of resources to experiencing the world. Because our brain’s resources are limited, we are left with a choice: to use those finite resources to look at things through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism, and meaning. In other words, while we of course can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone, we can use our brains to change how we process the world, and that in turn changes how we react to it. Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above circumstance (63).

Most of us are taught to look for what’s not working or unhelpful and label it as wrong, bad or unlucky. Critical thought is highly valued in our society and essential to some careers. However, when we train ourselves to only see the negatives in life, we obstruct the opportunities and ideas that allow us to grow. It’s important to train our minds to have a positive mindset because:

Psychology has shown that mindset doesn’t just change how we feel about an experience–it actually changes the objective results of that experience (69).

Therefore, it is our respective impression of what is occurring, or what we think will occur, that literally alters what does occur. How does this happen? Achor writes:

One answer is that the brain is organized to act on what we predict will happen next, something psychologists call “Expectancy Theory”…our expectations create brain patterns that can be just as real as those created by events in the real world…the expectations of an event causes the same complex set of neurons to fire as though the event were actually taking place, triggering a cascade of events in the nervous system that leads to a whole host of real physical consequences (70).

It’s important to stop every now and then (especially when you feel emotionally upset) and ask yourself what story am I telling myself right now and how does it affect what I believe will happen? Examine that belief and its origins, for a belief is simply a thought you have had many times. Sometimes it’s a thought we inherited from society or our parents and we have simply not taken the time to experience it for our self. Whatever is going on in your life right now, take a moment and say to yourself, “I expect a positive outcome!” and see what happens. Consider watching Shawn Achor’s TED Talk: The Happy Secret to Better Work. 

Has all this talk of positive psychology generated any ideas or experiences you’d like to talk about? Share your thoughts in the comments!

~Storm Arcana (415) 260-2903 / stormantic@gmail.com