Wednesday, 8 February 2012

The job success = happiness equation revised

Today, we look at the New Year’s resolution “boost your career” once more. Why would we want to boost our career? To be successful. Of course. And why would we want to be successful? Because it will make us happy. Of course. But – just a second. What makes us so sure that it will work exactly like this?

In a very entertaining TED Talk, Shawn Achor explains that the formula work hard -> be successful -> be happy won’t work because once we have achieved our goal, we will set a higher one. So if success is the condition for happiness, we will never get there. From his own research, he learned that it is rather the other way round: when we are happy, we are successful. This is because happiness makes dopamine flow, the neurotransmitter that turns on all the learning centres in our brain. This will, in his opinion, lead to higher intelligence, creativity, and energy levels.

His findings are in line with what for example Sonja Lyubomirski, Laura Kind and Ed Diener found in a meta-analysis of decades of research: happiness precedes many successful outcomes, not only job success, but also sociability and activity, altruism, liking of self and others, good health, conflict resolution, and creative thinking.

Shawn Achor has the encouraging message that by following some “happiness exercises”, we can rewire our brain towards positivity – by merely doing one of them for two minutes per day on 21 consecutive days. These exercises are:
  • 3 gratitudes (Emmons & McCullough, 2003): write down three new things that you are grateful for
  • journaling (Slatcher & Pennebaker, 2006): write down one positive experience you’ve had during the day
  • exercise (Babyak et al., 2000)
  • meditation (Dweck, 2007)
  • random acts of kindness (Lyubomirski, 2005): e.g. write an appreciative email to someone from your social support network

These Positive Psychology interventions are well-studied and have been proven to work again and again. We reported on the “Three Blessings” (gratefulness and journaling) as well as on the positive effects of exercise and meditation on well-being in earlier posts. Barbara Fredrickson describes all the interventions in her book “Positivity”.

So in order to be successful, be positive. And in order to become positive, carry out some exercises that are easy and not time-consuming. Try it out. And if you like, share your experience with us. Leave a comment here, on facebook or on twitter, or write us an email (cute.scienceblog (at)

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