Rewrite The Happiness Formula

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It’s time to start thinking differently about happiness

What makes a person happy is surprisingly elusive information. It’s often something we think we know, but in the end we realize our formula was incorrect.

That formula is the life work of positive psychology expert Shawn Achor. He started thinking differently about happiness when he came to Harvard as a student and came to realize that most of the students suffered from depression, and many contemplated suicide. He wondered how such a privileged group of individuals could be so unhappy.

The more he researched over the years, the more he came to understand that the typical recipe we give ourselves for happiness is very backwards. For example, we mistakenly attribute much of our happiness to our external world. We think that if we could just live somewhere “better” or work somewhere “better,” we’d be happier. But Achor’s research shows that a person’s external world only predicts 10 percent of their happiness.

The relationship between success and happiness is the other big misconception. Many people think that if they just got certain grades, got a certain promotion, or achieved something great, they would be happier. The idea in our minds is that if we work harder, we’ll be more successful, and that will lead to happiness.

“That undergirds most of our parenting and managing styles, the way that we motivate our behavior,” Achor said in his very popular TED Talk.

The problem, Achor explains, is that once we get some level of success, the idea of what success is shapeshifts into something else. For example, if you get a good job, you quickly think about getting a better one. If you hit a sales goal, you form new, higher sales goals. Therefore, happiness remains elusive in our minds because success is always a new carrot dangling ahead of us.

Positivity in the Present

The better way to approach life is to find a positive mindset in the moment, to believe that happiness can be with you currently, rather than being some distant object.

The benefits of being positive in the moment go beyond simply feeling better about your life. Achor’s research shows that those with a positive brain are more productive, more creative, more likely to receive a promotion. Positive people are also less stressed and more likely to live longer. Achor calls this the “happiness advantage.” The brain simply does better when you are feeling positive versus negative, neutral or stressed.

But suddenly “being positive” may seem like a tall order. You feel how you feel, right? Achor discovered that it is possible to re-train the brain to be more positive. Here are some ways to begin to think differently about happiness:

  1. Every day, list a few things you’re grateful for. This causes your brain to get in the habit of looking for the positive first and not the negative.
  2. Keep a journal where you write about positive experiences.
  3. Exercise.
  4. Do random acts of kindness.
  5. Meditate.

The Right Response

A big part of being positive in the present is correctly responding to challenges. Research shows that our response to stresses in life actually matters more to our happiness than what those stresses actually are. For example, two different people can have their cars break down and respond very differently to the same scenario. One person might be thinking about all the ways their life is going poorly and all the money that has been wasted. The other person may be thinking about how it could have been worse, how breakdowns happen to every one, and how money isn’t that big of a deal. One will retain a positive feeling, and the other will be sad and stressed, even though they’ve both had the same experience.

3 Categories: How People Respond to Challenges


Venters are highly expressive and open about stressful things going on in their life. This openness can actually be very positive, providing ground for friendships and connection with others. But, venters tend to be worse at keeping a cool head under pressure and being able to actively solve problems. They are good at acknowledging problems and communicating their stress, but it often stops there.

Five Alarmers

This category of people doesn’t differentiate between high and low stress, and therefore respond to every situation as if it’s a five-alarm fire. They suffer massive emotional cost when it’s all over. They are exhausted, and burned out.

Calm Responders

Calm responders have a rational response to challenges. When a problem arises, they often seek the advice of a few trusted people, and then begin to take action. This group tends to enjoy the highest levels of happiness and success.

Source: Michelle Gielan,

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