Why Happiness Matters

Your brain can change and you can raise your happiness baseline.

This is just some of what my wife and I learned when we attended the One Day University in Los Angeles yesterday.  One of the professors was Shawn Achor gave a lecture on Positive Psychology and the Science of Happiness.  In real life, Shawn is the head teaching fellow for one of the most popular courses at Harvard called Positive Psychology which draws about 1000 students per semester and CEO of Aspirant, an applied the research consulting firm.

According to the Aspirant website, positive psychology is:

a new branch in academia that studies the traits and conditions that lead to optimal functioning. Its founding principle is that well-being is not merely the absence of distress, but a whole host of conditions that allow us to grow, prosper and thrive.

Shawn shared a number of interesting studies and statistics:

  • 80% of Harvard students report debilitating depression during their 4 years
  • Depression rates are now 10x higher than during the Great Depression
  • The ratio of negative to positive psychology studies is 21 to 1
  • Belief in others has an impact on what they can achieve
  • Happy people are more productive, live longer and have fewer health issues

Shawn noted that we should re-frame the question about what is normal and not be satisfied about remaining average.  “If we want to see what we are truly capable of, we should study those who lie above the curve.”

He also gave us 5 simple tasks we can do to train our brains to raise our happiness baseline:

  1. 3 Gratitudes – By writing down 3 things that you’re grateful for each night before you go to bed, you’ll experience a bump in happiness for the next 24 hours and your brain will become more skilled in avoiding stresses.
  2. Journal – People who take 10 minutes to write in a journal 3 times per week report enhanced positive moods.
  3. Simplify – You can actually do more by doing less which means that we should stop multitasking which may be difficult for the hard-core Twitterers.
  4. Exercise – Research has shown that 30 minutes of exercise is equivalent to taking an anti-depressant.
  5. Meditate -  Just 5 minutes a day to sit quietly and listen to your breathing is enough to lower your stress levels and give you more energy.

There is more information on training your brain on Shawn’s website under “Training Your Brain” along with a recommended reading list on positive psychology.

And here is Part One of Shawn’s talk that I found on YouTube:

The other two parts of Shawn’s typical presentation can also be found on YouTube – Part 2 and Part 3. I also found this presentation on the Science of Humor that Shawn delivered earlier this year.

Is Happiness Your Business Model?

Tara “missrogue” Hunt posted a great presentation on Slideshare recently called “Happiness as Your Business Model” which is about “incorporating your human drive for fulfillment into your core business”.

Not only is the presentation visually pleasing, Tara makes several great points in the 197 slide presentation (don’t worry, it doesn’t really feel like 197 slides and you can flip through the presentation pretty quickly).

She starts out by comparing the theoretical “homo-economicus” to the more practical “homo-feelgoodomicus” and worked in Martin Seligman’s 1998 Positive Psychology study and humans’ need for happiness as a key to success,

Why is happiness important? Here are Tara’s 7 reasons that happiness is key to business success:

  1. happy customers talk to more people about their positive experiences (see my SnagIt post)
  2. unhappy customers talk to the most people about their negative experiences
  3. happy customers are repeat customers
  4. happy customers will pay more for an awesome experience
  5. happy customers are loyal
  6. happy customers will drive your marketing for you (see #2)
  7. happy employees are more productive, creative and loyal

Following up on that, she launches into a discussion of the 4 Pillars of Happiness (autonomy, competence, relatedness and self-esteem) which are offset by the 5 Barriers to Happiness (fear, confusion, loneliness, lack of control and struggle for survival).

Ultimately, it’s about finding an “axis of misery” where people are unhappy with their experiences and turning it into a money-making opportunity by them happy (think Zappos, Zipcar, Southwest Airlines, and Moleskin, etc.).

You can follow Tara on Twitter (as missrogue) or read more about her on her HorsePigCow blog.