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The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work


Through this book, Shawn Achor has tried to explain how happiness is necessary for every stage of our lives. Happiness invites positive energy, and positivity leads to a healthier life. Psychological studies state that a positive brain has a biological advantage over a brain with negative or neutral thoughts. "The Happiness Advantage" encourages you to break the barriers of mediocrity and seize every opportunity that presents itself with the following three principles:

1. The Positive Psychology

2. The Seven Principles

3. The Ripple effect

  1. The Positive Psychology

Learn about positive psychology and its importance with the following points:

i. Introduction to positive psychology

ii. Discover the Happiness Advantage

iii. The Happiness Advantage at work

iv. Change is Possible

i.Introduction to positive psychology:

Achor has a firm belief in positive psychology. He compared traditional psychology with positive psychology to prove a point - happiness results from the hard work we put in and our journey to achieve it. Happiness and positivity lead to success and not the other way around. To become successful, you have to be truly happy first.

Positive thinking is a powerful force. The power of positive thinking makes you more open-minded and helps you inculcate new behavior and changes in the mindset. Many people find it hard to change their opinions about some things, for which they experience suffering and pain. A positive mind is always keen to learn about a different perspective which helps it grow.

ii. Discover the Happiness Advantage:

Happiness is a feeling of joy, well-being, and accomplishment. Happiness advantage is a concept of psychology that tries to connect personal happiness with professional success. Achor discovered the idea of happiness advantage during his 12 years at Harvard as a freshman proctor and teaching assistant. He noticed a significant difference between the successful and the average students. The successful students were happy and hence eager to learn with a positive mind. On the other hand, the average ones got discouraged at every setback, which resulted in them taking a negative approach towards their teachers and the curriculum. Positive thinking is not just thinking about the good stuff but acknowledging our past mistakes and learning from them.

iii. The Happiness Advantage at Work:

Traditional psychology says that success brings happiness and convinces people to work as hard as possible to become successful. Achor believes that the formula of traditional psychology is broken and unhelpful. Achor suggests putting happiness first and success second, whereas the majority of us tend to do the opposite.

A stressed brain is the most unproductive. Happiness and positivity help us to be most productive. If you are not happy with your profession or the career path you chose, you will never succeed as you will not give your hundred percent to it. And even if you do succeed, you will never be satisfied with it. First, make sure your decisions bring you happiness, then success will come automatically. The happiness advantage is not about the assumption that we do not need to change; it is the belief that we can.

iv. Change is Possible:

Keeping a rigid attitude and being resistant to change is never helpful. A person who socializes with others is more likely to be successful than an introverted person. The reasons being:

  1. Listening to different views and ideas makes you more open-minded and knowledgeable.
  2. Socializing even reduces stress and depression that helps in increasing efficiency and productivity.

A risk-taking attitude is essential. A person who always strives to reduce his risks finds himself stuck in mediocrity for eternity. To be unique and extraordinary, you have to think outside the box. People who put their heads down and await work to bring eventual happiness put themselves at an enormous disadvantage. At the same time, those who maximise positivity at every chance they get, come out ahead.

2. The Seven principles

Following are the seven principles of positive psychology that help us understand the Happiness Advantage better:

i. The Happiness Advantage

ii.The Fulcrum and the Lever

iii. The Tetris Effect

iv. The Falling up

v.The Zorro Circle

vi. The 20-Second Rule

vii. Social Investment

i. The Happiness Advantage:

“Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.”

Each one of us has a different perspective on happiness. For some, reading a book can bring happiness, while for others, it resides in the company of their friends or family. Our level of happiness fluctuates throughout the day where many times, we feel down and unproductive. There are various ways we can boost our mood -

  1. Meditation - A 5-minute daily meditation is enough. Meditation relieves stress and makes us feel calm.
  2. Exercise - Any form of exercise like jogging, running, swimming, Zumba, etc., rejuvenate our mood and improve our work performance.
  3. Have a purpose for the day - Not having to do anything for a whole day can sound relaxing, but eventually, you will end up frustrated and unhappy. As a result, make sure you have at least one purpose for the day.
  4. Acts of kindness - Committing acts of kindness like feeding a stray dog, etc., provides a feeling of contentment.
  5. Always radiate positivity - Having a positive personality benefits us and also the people around us. Always try to keep a positive attitude.
  6. Avoid watching dark or negative shows - Watching too many negative shows significantly decreases our happiness level and harbors negativity. Make sure you consume them in a limited amount.

Positive thoughts and emotions release dopamine and serotonin hormones in our brain. These hormones make us feel good and increase the learning levels of the brain, which helps us organise any new information and sustain it longer. They make us more skilled at complex tasks and increase our levels of creativity.

ii.The Fulcrum and the Lever:

“Happiness isn’t lying to ourselves or turning a blind eye towards negativity, but about adjusting our brain and thoughts in such a way so that we can rise above our circumstances.”

The fulcrum is the mindset, and the lever is the power. We see and experience a lot of negativity in our life which leaves a destructive impact on us. The principle of the fulcrum and the lever teaches us how to process negative experiences and adjust our reactions towards them to maximise our potential and overcome them.

The power to maximise our potential is based on 2 things:

  1. Length of our lever - The length of the lever is how much potential and power we believe we have in us.
  2. Position of our fulcrum - Position of the fulcrum implies the mindset in which we generate the power to change. It can either be positive or negative.

To increase our potential and turn negativity into positivity, we must change the position of the fulcrum of our mindset and increase the length of its lever. It’s not the weight and the tension of the world that determines what and how much we can accomplish; it's the result of our fulcrum and lever.

iii. The Tetris Effect:

“It's not the age or what you do for a living that counts. It is the skill and the consistency.”

Constantly inspecting our surroundings for negativity is not good. It takes a toll on our creativity and increases our stress levels, lowering our motivation and productivity. Instead, if we focus on the positive things in the surroundings, we stand to gain the three most important tools - happiness, gratitude, and optimism. The best way to maintain your focus on the positive is by writing down the good things about your job, career, and life. Make it a habit to write at least three good things that happened to you that day. This way, your brain will be forced to analyse the day’s potential positives, which will lighten up your mood. The best time to do this is before going to sleep. It will help you fall asleep faster as your brain isn’t stressed or worried about tomorrow.

iv. The Falling up:

‘Things do not necessarily happen for the best, but some people can make the best out of things that happen.’

After a negative experience or any crisis, there are three mental paths we can take -

  1. One where you circle back to where we started. The negative experience brings no change in us.
  2. One which leads to further negative consequences. It makes us far worse after the negative event. This path is the reason why we are afraid of facing challenges and conflicts.
  3. The third path is a positive one which makes us stronger after the setback or failure caused by the negative experience. We become even more capable than before.

Studies show that if we perceive failure as an opportunity to grow, we are more likely to experience that growth. We should always look for positive opportunities by rejecting the assumption that every setback will lead to even more failure. Instead of dwelling on failure and past mistakes, learn from them and don’t look back. Setbacks and failures are a part of success.

v.The Zorro Circle:

“Small successes can add up to major achievements. All it takes is drawing that first circle in the sand.”

Studies say that control is a very crucial aspect while working or doing any task. We feel confident when we know we are in control of the task(well aware of the task). Stress starts building up when we feel incapable of completing the task. In such situations, we start losing control which in the end affects the outcome. Achor suggests breaking down the complex task into smaller tasks and gradually expanding your horizon to achieve the bigger task. It simply means tackling one small challenge at a time to avoid losing control. Psychologists state that most people who are successful in work and life have an ‘internal locus of control.’ People with an internal locus of control believe that their actions directly affect their outcomes. They believe that they control their success and failure.

vi. The 20-Second Rule:

“It’s not the sheer number and volume of distractions that get us into trouble; it’s the ease of access to them.”

William James, a philosopher, called creating good habits “daily strokes of effort.” Habits form in conjunction with our frequent daily activities. The 20-second rule teaches you how to replace bad habits with good ones by placing bad habits in a place hard to access and the good ones on easy access. Doing this will add 20 seconds more to finding those bad habits, eventually making them less desirable and hence easier to cut out of our life. If you are on a diet, try putting your snacks somewhere out of your reach. Here are some ways you can use the 20-second rule in your life:

  1. Put your gym clothes beside your bed so that when you wake up, that’s the first thing you see which will make you want to go to the gym.
  2. Always keep a water bottle on the desk or table you work on to ensure you drink enough water.
  3. Keep your vitamins next to your bed, so you don’t forget to take them in the morning.

When we look at our distractions or bad habits, we are tempted to waste our time on them. The 20-second rule is the best way to overcome this. By adding 20 seconds to your day, you will gain back 2 hours.

vii. Social Investment:

“The more social support you have, the happier you are.”

Over a thousand highly successful professional women and men were interviewed to find out their biggest source of motivation. Surprisingly, all of them placed work friendships over financial gain and individual status. Organisational psychologists have found out that friendships among colleagues fuel their performance in work significantly. Maintaining a healthy and friendly environment in an office is very important.

Also, the most successful people are the ones that invest in their family, friends, and loved ones. The kind of environment that surrounds you has a major impact on your performance. A good social support system is the key to acquire excellence and success.

3. The Ripple Effect

Learn how to create and radiate positivity around you:

i. Spreading the Happiness Advantage at work, home, and beyond

i. Spreading the Happiness Advantage at work, home, and beyond:

Our level of happiness depends a lot on our emotions too. Positive emotions generate positive energy and happiness. The happier you are in a specific environment - be it your house or workplace - the happier people around you will be. Happiness is very contagious, and so are positive emotions. Even the smallest moments of joy in the workplace can enhance efficiency and productivity in you and your co-workers. You can be in control of every aspect of your life by just learning how to be happy.

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Get ready to say goodbye to all those distractions!


Hyperfocus by Chris Bailey explores how to train your brain’s two most efficient modes: the focused mode, i.e., Hyperfocus, and the creative mode, i.e., Scatter Focus. Hyperfocus implies intense attention that lasts an extended period, whereas scatter focus is the process of directing all the attention inward by deliberately letting the mind wander. Most of us struggle to maintain our focus while working. The following points will help you to overcome that using various techniques and methodologies:

1. Hyperfocus

Prepare yourself to become hyper-focused through employing these following principles in your life:

i. Switching Off autopilot mode

Ii.The Limits of Your Attention

iii. The Power of Hyperfocus

iv. Taming Distractions

v. Making Hyperfocus a Habit

i. Switching Off Autopilot Mode:

Knowing how to make the best use of your attention is very important as it is the most limited and restricted resource. Managing it well will lead to increased focus, productivity, and creativity. Switching off autopilot mode implies fixating and sustaining all your attention towards something you want. We gradually become the things we pay most of our attention to. Almost 40% of our daily actions are habits that don't require sensible thinking or brooding.

There are mainly 4 types of tasks -

  1. Necessary work: Necessary work is productive but can feel uninteresting because of compulsion and repetition. Example: team meetings, budget-balancing, etc.
  2. Purposeful work: Purposeful work provides satisfaction to us and adds value to the world. These tasks are challenging and productive. For example, a donation to charity, providing clean water to poor people, etc.
  3. Unnecessary work: Procrastinating is another word for doing unnecessary tasks. These are the tasks we do to avoid a more challenging and uninteresting task. For example: rearranging the desk, cleaning the drawers, etc.
  4. Distracting work: These “tasks” are stimulating yet unproductive. Example: social media, checking mail, etc.

All of these tasks compete with each other every day to get your attention. The more we are on autopilot mode, the more is the chance we choose the wrong task. To avoid making the wrong choice try to be more intentional while placing your focus and take breaks to relax to recharge your brain to be active throughout the day.

ii. The Limits Of Your Attention:

The amount of mental capacity available to focus on and process things at the moment is known as our attentional space. Depending upon their complexity, different tasks take up different amounts of attentional space. Habits require minimum attentional space, while complex tasks can only be done with a dedicated focus. The intention is the goal or the purpose for performing a particular task. Intention helps us prioritise our attention to avoid overloading or unnecessary waste of time on lesser important tasks. If we continually switch between tasks, our work can take 50% longer to complete than usual. This happens due to attention residue. When we switch from one work to another, some fragments of the previous task remain in our attentional space. That is called attention residue.

Steps to focus with intention:

  1. Set your intentions for the day before beginning the day`s work
  2. The environment for your work shouldn’t be too distracting
  3. Do not avoid tasks that are challenging and uninteresting to you. Take small breaks to avoid boredom while doing these tasks
  4. Eliminate distractions before getting derailed by them.

iii. The Power of Hyperfocus:

The term hyperfocus originates from the literature and research of ADHD(attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). People with ADHD tend to focus on certain tasks intensely and cannot control when to focus and how much. Unlike this, Hyperfocus implies focusing intensely with conscious attention. Hyperfocus helps you get completely immersed in your work and, most importantly, allows for only a single productive task to consume your attentional space.

Hyperfocus can only be used for complex tasks and not for habits because-

  1. Hyperfocus requires willpower and mental energy to activate. We have these in limited amounts for each day. As a result, it is better to use them for complex tasks than habit-based ones because habits are easy to initiate automatically without much effort.
  2. Conscious focus increases our performance on complex tasks. However, the same amount of focus leads to a decrease in our performance on habit-based tasks.

Our mind passes through 4 stages when we begin to focus -

  1. We are focused, and things are getting done
  2. The mind begins to get distracted
  3. We take note of this distraction
  4. The mind refocuses our attention towards the task

Steps to Hyperfocus -

  1. Mentally decide the duration of your Hyperfocus
  2. Anticipate obstacles ahead of time
  3. Set a timer to the desired time you wish to complete your task by

iv. Taming Distractions:

Distraction is the process of diverting the attention or focus from the desired goal of an individual. We either get distracted due to our surroundings or ourselves. Research shows that we get distracted by ourselves just as often we are interrupted by other people.

There are mainly four types of distractions-

  1. No control / Annoying: In the case of a person working in an office- loud colleagues, office visitors, team members asking queries, construction noises from outside, etc.
  2. No control / Fun: Calls or texts from close ones or family members.
  3. Control / Annoying: Emails, text messages, mobile notifications, etc.
  4. Control / Fun: Browsing on social media, reading books or comics, etc.

To avoid such distractions, deal with them beforehand to not lose focus and always keep your original intention in mind. There are two modes of working- a. Distraction-free mode b. Reduced- distraction mode

  1. Distraction-free mode is working without any distractions by dealing with them before beginning any complex task. This mode is intended for getting into Hyperfocus.
  2. Reduced-distraction mode implies working with manageable distractions and maintaining a balance between your distractions and your productivity. This mode is helpful for group activities as working in a group requires interaction with others while working.

v. Making Hyperfocus a Habit:

Our minds wander the foremost when we are-

  1. Feeling stressed: Stress occurs when we take up tasks that exceed our ability to cope with them. These problems can be avoided by breaking down the task into smaller, more manageable tasks, or working in a calm environment can help too.
  2. Feeling bored: We tend to feel bored after a particular point of time working continuously. Enabling distraction-free mode and practicing Hyperfocus more often can help to avoid feeling bored.
  3. Personal problems: Personal issues deteriorate our focus and hence reduces productivity. Sometimes they even lead to stress and anxiety. Maintaining a worry list can help avoid this. While working, if we get any thoughts that distract us, we can note them down in a list. This allows us not to overthink them and continue focusing on the work.

Three simple ways to resist your resistance to Hyperfocus-

  1. Work for smaller hours rather than sitting in one place for long hours and working. Remember that quality matters more than quantity. Make only an hour of work count more than three hours of work. Shrinking the period of hyper-focusing will help you not to resist it.
  2. Keep practicing Hyperfocus every day to become good at it.
  3. Take breaks whenever needed.

2. Scatterfocus

Learn how to activate our creative mode with the help of these points:

i. Your Brain’s Hidden Creative Mode

ii. Recharging Your Attention

iii. Connecting Dots

iv. Collecting Dots

v. Working together

i. Your Brain's Hidden Creative Mode:

Scatterfocus implies directing all your attention inwards and letting the mind wander intentionally. Solving problems becomes easier when we let our minds wander. Moreover, if a given task requires creativity, practicing Hyperfocus can be a disadvantage. Because it restricts our imagination as we are entirely focused on something external. The more creativity a task requires, the more you should deliberately try getting into scatter focus mode.

Benefits of scatter focus:

  1. More self-awareness
  2. More empathy and compassion
  3. More reflection on the meaning of experiences
  4. Helps in setting intentions and make plans for the future
  5. Enables creativity
  6. Recharges the mind

Scatter Focus and mind-wandering are not the same. Scatter Focus is intentional mind wandering. There are three main ways to scatter focus- capture mode, problem-crunching mode, and habitual mode.

  1. Capture mode: Capture mode involves letting the mind wander freely and capturing the essential thoughts that come up in the process. This mode is best for identifying what is on your mind.
  2. Problem-crunching mode: This mode includes holding a single thought in your mind and letting the mind wander around that same thought, and then later connecting the dots. It is the best way to mull over a specific problem or idea and not focus intensely on it.
  3. Habitual mode: Habitual mode involves doing habit-based simple tasks that take up almost all of your attentional space and using that time to allow the mind to wander. This is the best mode because habitual tasks put you in a good mood, encouraging you to stay in this mood longer, increasing your attentional capacity. To practice this, pick a simple task that is your favorite.

The main difference between problem-crunching mode and habitual mode is that you continually drawback your thoughts towards the problem in problem-crunching. In contrast, in the habitual mode, you let them wander freely.

Hyperfocus and scatter focus are anti-correlated because different neural networks are engaged for each. The brain’s “task-positive” mode is engaged for Hyperfocus, while the “task-negative” or “default” mode is engaged for scatter focus and mind wandering. However, both these modes support each other as Hyperfocus expands our attentional space and improves memory and self-awareness, enhancing the experience of scatter focus. The most productive mode of the brain is Hyperfocus, while scatter focus is the brain’s most creative mode.

ii. Recharging Your Attention:

Over time as directed attention starts depleting, your ability to think and make good decisions also declines. Hence recharging your attention is essential. Signs that you need to recharge your attention-

  1. Being unable to focus on a single thing for any significant amount of time even after switching tasks often
  2. Working without intention
  3. Working slower than your usual average pace. For example: having to read a single paragraph over and over again to comprehend it.
  4. Slipping into scatter focus mode unintentionally.
  5. Lack of sleep. Getting enough sleep can increase your attentional space up to 58%.
  6. Doing mindless tasks one after the other. For example, checking emails, social media browsing, etc.
  7. Lack of rest or breaks.

How to recharge your attention-

Taking more breaks: Activities performed during breaks must be habit-based and “pleasurably effortless.” Break activities shouldn't involve checking emails, social media or news, etc., because they force our brain to focus on something else rather than stepping back into scatter focus. Ideal break activities can be-

  1. Nature walks, as spending time in nature increases our creative problem-solving ability by 50% and lowers stress hormone levels.
  2. Going for a run outside
  3. Going to the gym
  4. Reading something fun and light.
  5. Listening to music or podcasts
  6. Doing something creative and fun like painting, photography, dancing, etc.

There are just two main rules to remember while taking breaks: 1. Take one break after working for 90 minutes at least. 2. For each hour of work, a break of 15 minutes is sufficient.

iii. Connecting Dots:

Dots imply any piece of information you have in your mind. Connecting dots is the process of drawing logical inferences from those pieces of information. Scatterfocus engages the brain’s default network, i.e., it interconnects different parts of the brain in a seemingly random way. This helps you to gain the required insights by the connecting dots you’ve gathered so far. How to connect dots-

  1. Scatter your attention in a healthier environment, for example: walking through bookstores, etc. The healthier the environment, the more potential dots you can collect.
  2. Practice writing down the problems you wish to crack. Writing them down can make them easier and better to understand.
  3. Sleep on your problems. Dreaming is a way to scatter focus because your mind continues to connect the dots even when you are dreaming.
  4. Purposefully delay creative decisions until the deadline if you can. This helps you develop better ideas as your mind is in scatter focus for a longer time.
  5. Intentionally leave your tasks unfinished. The more abruptly you leave a task unfinished, the more you will think about it when you are doing something else. And hence, the quality of your performance improves.

Consume as many new dots as you can. We are what we consume.

iv. Collecting Dots:

Collecting dots is the process of bringing together information from various places for creativity. The four types of dots are: useful, balanced, entertaining, and trashy. Useful information must be consumed when you have the energy to finish something complex and dense. Consume balanced information when you have considerably less energy. Consume entertaining information with intention when you are running low on energy. And lastly, trashy information must be consumed the least.

Constellation of dots- Creating constellations of dots is a process of consuming information about something you already know.

Consuming information about something unrelated to you is also helpful as it helps in expanding your views about the world and provides insight triggers.

The value of dot: The brain’s capacity to store information is limitless. However, attention is a very limited resource. Hence, it is essential to be aware of how we consume our dots. Reading books and having in-depth conversations with people produces much more valuable dots than watching reality television.

How to measure the value of a dot: The most valuable dots are the ones that are useful as well as entertaining.

  1. Useful dots- They are relevant, long term, practical, and helps you to achieve your goals
  2. Entertaining dots- Entertaining dots are the most engageable ones.

Watching TED Talks are the best example of entertaining and useful dots.

How to make scatter focus a habit:

  1. Try to stay away from social media from 8 am to 8 pm as much as possible to increase productivity.
  2. Use an alarm clock instead of setting the alarm on your phone to avoid wasting time looking at your phone immediately after waking up.
  3. Take a long shower and take note of what thoughts come into your mind when it is idle.
  4. Workout without listening to music or podcasts
  5. Tame your distractions and choose a relatively simple environment to work in

v. Working Together:

  1. Smart work- Practice doing smart work rather than doing unnecessary hard work. To do smart work, schedule complex tasks during your biological prime time(the time of the day when you have a great potential to be productive), and tasks that require creativity should be scheduled during your creativity prime time.

Note that these times can differ from person to person. Some people are the most productive at night, while some early birds are the most active early in the morning.

  1. Investing in your happiness- Being truly happy does not just include positive thinking but also practicing gratitude, journaling, meditation, and acts of kindness.
  2. Drinking alcohol and caffeine strategically- Alcohol helps us boost our creativity, but it also decreases our focus. On the other hand, caffeine has the opposite effect of alcohol; it increases focus but decreases creativity and the ability to scatter focus. Although caffeine boosts our physical performance, excess consumption can cause anxiety. Attaining a balanced amount of alcohol and caffeine consumption is the key to get better results.
  3. Open offices- Working in an open environment increases the possibility of getting distracted almost 64% more often. But in an open office, collaborative work is given more importance. However, highly focused and complex tasks often suffer in an open environment.

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