Train Your Brain for Happiness, Success

People can rewire their brains for higher levels of happiness.

June 20, 2012
/ PRINT / ShareShare / Text Size +

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.”

Post a comment to this story


What's Popular

Popular Stories

Recent Discussion

Great article! Unfortunately, most employees don’t feel valued or appreciated by their supervisors or employers. In fact, research has shown that the predominant reason team members quit their jobs is because they don’t feel valued. This is in spite of the fact that employee recognition programs have proliferated in the workplace – over 90% of all organizations in the U.S. has some form of employee recognition activities in place. But most employee recognition programs are viewed with skepticism and cynicism – because they aren’t viewed as being genuine in their communication of appreciation. Getting the “employee of the month” award, receiving a certificate of recognition, or a “Way to go, team!” email just don’t get the job done. How do you communicate authentic appreciation? We have found people have different ways that they want to be shown appreciation, and if you don’t communicate in the language of appreciation important to them, you essentially “miss the mark”. Additionally, employees need to receive recognition more than once a year at their performance review. Otherwise, they view the praise as “going through the motions”. A third component of authentic appreciation is that the communication has to be about them personally – not the department, not their group, but something they did. Finally, they have to believe that you mean what you say. How you treat them has to match the words you use. If you are not sure how your team members want to be shown appreciation, the Motivating By Appreciation Inventory ( will identify the language of appreciation and specific actions preferred by each employee. You then can create a group profile for your team, so everyone knows how to encourage one another. Remember, employees want to know that they are valued for what they contribute to the success of the organization. And communicating authentic appreciation in the ways they desire it can make the difference between keeping your quality team members or having a negative work environment that everyone wants to leave. Paul White, Ph.D., is the co-author of The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace with Dr. Gary Chapman.

Your Say: Who should be Credit Union Magazine's 2014 CU Hero of the Year?

View Results Poll Archive