America's CU Conference

Train Your Brain for Happiness, Success

People can rewire their brains for higher levels of happiness.

June 20, 2012

People can rewire their brains for higher levels of happiness—and in the process become more successful in business and relationships, Shawn Achor told America’s Credit Union Conference attendees Tuesday morning.

Achor, author of “The Happiness Advantage” and former Harvard professor, conducts research on the link between happiness and success. He found three main predictors of happiness: an optimistic mindset, social support, and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.

“Happiness is the precursor to success—not the result of it,” Achor said. “People will say things like, ‘I’ll be happy when I lose 20 pounds.’ But that doesn’t work.

“Our formula is broken: If I work harder now, I’ll be more successful, and then I’ll be happy,” he continued. “But that’s placing happiness at the opposite side of success.”

In the workplace, happiness leads to better business outcomes. Achor’s research has shown that optimists at work had:

  • 37% greater sales;
  • Three times more creativity;
  • 31% more productivity;
  • 40% greater likelihood of being promoted;
  • 23% lower fatigue symptoms;
  • Up to 10 times more engaged in their jobs; and
  • A 39% better chance to live to age 94.

Achieving and maintaining long-term happiness requires training your brain to focus on positive patterns, Achor said. He cited five steps people can take to become happier:

1. Three gratitudes. Each day, write down three new things that happened during the previous 24 hours for which you’re grateful.

2. The Doubler. For 21 consecutive days, write down one meaningful thing that happened to you during the previous 24 hours. “This changes us from being task-based to meaning-based,” Achor said.

3. Fun 15. Participate in 15 minutes of active and mindful activity each day, such as walking or gardening. Doing this every day for the long-term has the same effect on the brain as an anti-depressant.

4. Meditation. For two minutes a day, focus only watching your breath go in and out.

5. Conduct acts of kindness. Send an email to a friend or relative each day to recognize, praise, or thank them. This helps build up social networks.

“The lack of a social network has the same effect on your health as smoking and heart disease,” Achor said.

People who follow these steps for 28 days experience physical changes in their brains, he added. “These things sound like tips and tricks, but they’re the building blocks of developing positive patterns.”

Building positive patterns and creating social networks can lead to success in business: Those who have strong social support are 10 times more engaged at work than those without it, and they’re 40% more likely to be promoted.

“If you give to the social support you reap an advantage not only in terms of happiness, but a financial one as well,” Achor said. “The more we smile, the more optimistic we are, and the more we’re positive actually ripples out to other people around us—our coworkers, our family members, and our customers.”