The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor, summary + actionable tips

Sometimes reading non fiction self help books can seem like a chore, believe me I’ve been there. You want all the tips and tricks to improve your life, but you’d much rather nestle down with a cup of tea to a good story to help you escape from the real world. That’s completely fine, if that’s you- I’ve got you! Much like my summary of Atomic Habits , today I am going to be sharing a summary of the book The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor. This book is based around positive psychology and the idea that happiness leads to success, not the other way around. It is too common we think: you’ll be happy once you have got that promotion, happy once you’ve passed that test and despite the fact we often don’t admit it to ourselves, we all know this is NOT the case. A few months ago I set myself a grade goal for one of my Alevel subjects, and last week I achieved that goal. I expected to feel extatic and satisfied, but instead I was focused on the marks I’d missed and how I could have done better. Hustle culture has really fucked us up in this sense, as we are never happy with what we’ve got- we always want more. This is why Anchor suggests we need to ditch this way of thinking and instead focus on becoming happy first. Once we are content and happy, success will follow later; having happiness AND success is a whole lot better than just having success, when you put it like that it’s hard to understand why we haven’t all already caught onto this idea. Whilst The Happiness Advantage mainly focuses on happiness and satisfaction in the workplace, as a student I’ve translated it to relate to academics, but I have still included some of the work related things. The book is split into 7 principles, so I am going to explain each and give some actionable tips to help you harness each principle in your everyday life.

Principle 1: The Happiness Advantage

The first principle sets the general theme of the book: focus and mindset. It introduces one of the main parts of the book: positive psychology. Positive psychology is centered around exploring what makes us happy as opposed to traditional psychology in this area which focuses on more negative things, like trauma and depression. Anchor suggests that happiness leads to success, and if we start focusing on happiness we can capitalise off it. If you approach success and work from a place of happiness it can give you that edge, that different mindset which helps set you out from the rest of your team/peers. If we focus on what we have as opposed to what we don’t, we gain a positive outlook of the world, and in this it becomes easier to spot positive opportunities- more on this in the tetris effect chapter. The summary of this chapter is, essentially, that approaching life with positive emotions gives you that competitive edge that is so crucial in todays employment environment.

Principle 2: The Fulcrum and the lever

‘How we experience the world and our ability to succeed within it, constantly changes based on our mindset‘ This is a clear reoccuring theme throughout the book, and by the end it had been really drilled into me and honestly, it has changed the way I view my work! To help explain this concept, picture a seesaw. Imagine each side has bricks on it, and one has a lot more than the other side. Now, obviously, the side with more bricks will fall to the floor, sending the other side up and making the seesaw unbalanced. This metaphor can be seen in our life, its all too common to have an unbalanced relationship between work/education and relaxation, we all struggle with switching off sometimes. It would be easy to say to you to just find balance in your life but, realistically, this cannot always be done, sometimes to do everything we want to do we have to be ok with having limited relaxation time. If there are no changes you can do to readjust the balance then you need to take a look at the structure of your life, the fulcrum. On a seesaw if you move the center along it will affect the balance of it. Sometimes when you cannot change the weight on either side of the seesaw you need to change the center to readjust the balance! How do you readjust the center? You need to readjust your focus. By shifting the way you view certain activities you spend your time doing, you can shift the weights on the seesaw. Say on one side is your work and the other side is things you find fun, if you start focusing on the positives of your work, some weight will move from the work side to the fun side! Essentially, shifting the focus ( fulcrum) means our lives will appear more balanced, and a balanced life leads to a happier life, and as we know, a happier life leads to success! Perspective is everything and shifting the focus/ the way you view things can help restore the feeling of balance in areas of your life.

Principle 3: The Tetris Effect

A study took place where a group played tetris non stop for a few weeks, and the effects of this showed psychologists alot about focus and how it effects our lives. The participants could not stop seeing tetris shapes in every part of their lives, they would start viewing everything as a puzzle and were constantly fitting shapes together in their mind. What we focus on expands. When our brains get stuck in a pattern where we focus on negativity and failure we set ourselves up to fail, we can retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility rather than failure so we can see and seize opportunity wherever we look. By constantly focusing on the positives it can reframe how you view your work, you’ll start to pick up on positive parts of failures, for example rejection being redirection.

Principle 4: Falling up

We are not perfect, we are only human, which means failure is inevitable. There will always be times within your work or school life where you fail, or at least don’t do as well as you wanted. Cases of failure are where the happiness advantage can be used to really separate yourself from the people around you. With the happiness advantage under your sleeve, you can reframe failure and view it in a different light, meaning you will be able to keep moving and achieveing in a situation others would have moped and felt like a failure. When something goes wrong, life doesn’t stop, you are continually moving forwards in your life. You can see it as a set back and spend time being down, or you can take it in your stride and take the lessons onboard.

Principle 5: The Zorro Circle

Whilst the first 4 are essentially spiced up versions of saying you need to reframe your perspective and focus, this principle is slightly different. The Zorro circle suggests you need to decrease your circle of focus from large, unmanagable things to little managable tasks. The whole concept of this book is about approaching work with a positive mindset improves success, but you can’t be positive if you are out of your depth. For example, say I wanted to focus on fitness, counting my micros and macros and doing a few hours of exercise a day is unattainable at first, if I went straight into that I’d fail. First I’d need to focus on smaller goals, like building up daily exercise habits, it would never work going from 0-100, I’d need to go from 0-10-30-50 etc.

Principle 6: The 20 second rule

Willpower is always going to be limited, hence why diets never stick and you end up bingeing that chocolate cake after a whole day of ‘clean’ eating. Anchor suggests we need to make it easier for ourselves, replacing bad habits with good for 20 seconds a day. Small redirection accompanying a bad habit is important. For example, at work ( or school) if you find yourself constantly distracted by emails, put 20 seconds between you and your emails. Remove it from your home-screen and make it so you need to log in every time. This will help with eliminating distraction. Alternatively, use habit stacking. Place a 20 second good habit alongside every bad one, to try and decrease it’s ‘damage’. For example, stretch for at least 20 seconds before you can scroll on your phone in the morning.

Principe 7: Social Investment

We have a tendency to hide away when things get tough, but Anchor suggests this is the opposite of what we should be doing, especially if we are focusing on happiness. Anchor describes his time as a Harvard Professor and his observations of two students. They were two roommates who were inseperable, but when exam season rolled around they went in their different directions. One hid away in the library, not even taking a break for lunch, and the other made sure to prioritise social interaction, she took part in study groups and remained social throughout revising. I’m sure you can guess which one ended up happier with their lives! As we know from the rest of the book, happiness gives you the happiness advantage which leads you to success, and by prioritising social interaction throughout hard times, you can actually get more work done and become more successful! Once you’ve been working for hours on end you often become distracted and unproductive, and sometimes overwhelmed by the amount you still have left to do, by making time for breaks with colleges or friends you can bring stress levels down and give your brain a short break. After distracting your brain for a bit you will come back more productive and focused, and most likely less overwhelmed. By ensuring you’re taking breaks to socialise you can cheer yourself up AND have more productive sessions as you won’t be loosing hours to distracted work like someone who sits at their desk for 7 hours straight- it really is the best of both worlds. We need to learn how to fight off our instinct to hide away alone, and instead focus on social interaction because it will pay off in the quality of your work/revision and this will help you become more successful.

My only critisim of this book is that it is not particularly actionable. It includes some great anecdotes but it is not overly clear how you can apply it to your life, you have to work it out yourself, but then I suppose this is good as well as it forces you to think. I’ve developed a few takeaways from this book, some actionable ways I am going to be implementing these principles into my work/education.

  • make sure you are surrounding myself with positive people, people say you’re the sum of the 5 people you spend time with so if your peers have a shit mindset, it will make it 100x harder for you to have a good mindset. A good mindset is really the key to this all
  • when failure occurs, write 3 positives that come from it. This could be tiny things like, it gives me time to lie in in the mornings for now or there is a better job waiting anyway.
  • When doing something you deem unpleasant, reframe your focus and look at the positive, why are you doing it? For example, say you are cleaning your bathroom, it’s unpleasant but you are doing it so you can live a clean, fresh feeling life. Little steps like this will help re-programme your mindset
  • Write down 5 big goals and break each one into little goals to give you an actionable to do list you can start working on straight away.

That was all for today! I hope you found this summary helpful and it saves you some time so you don’t have to read the books. If you take anything away from this focus on the last bits I wrote about the actionable tips, as after all learning this knowledge is pointless if you don’t apply it to your own life!


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