The Happiness Advantage

By Parker Nann, 3rd year Commerce student

Halfway through my very first semester at Queen’s, I was introduced to one of the simplest yet most challenging study strategies that I have come across: The Happiness Advantage. The idea appears basic: happy people are more successful in achieving their school, life, and personal goals. When I first encountered this strategy, it seemed so intuitive to me that I accepted it without objection. However, The Happiness Advantage challenges one of the most common perspectives that students hold about school: that working hard and persevering though school today, will bring success and happiness down the road. This perspective encourages us to surrender some of our happiness to our current duties, while convincing us that our future selves will thank us later for our early sacrifice. So we allow ourselves to be plunged into a mindset where our vision of future happiness dangles tantalizingly in front of us, so long as we can survive school long enough to grasp it.

But this formula is broken. When we become fixated with success, each time we succeed we simply change the bar of success to reflect our new aspirations. Achieving good grades only compels us to work towards better grades. So, while the pursuit of high goals is not in itself unhealthy, attaching our happiness to achieving progressively more improbable goals is, and prevents us from ever arriving at sustainable happiness.

The Happiness Advantage suggests an alternative progression: if we can generate happiness today, we have a better shot at success in the future. And this future success begets a cycle of happiness which, you guessed it, positions us for even more success. You are probably skeptical at this point, and should be, as success is not borne solely from a sunny outlook. Yet there is building scientific evidence about the influence that happiness has on personal effectiveness. The author of The Happiness Advantage researcher found that optimism and happiness in the workplace led to a 31% increase in productivity and a 37% increase in sales performance. The same researcher even found that physicians were 19% faster at reaching a correct diagnosis when happy compared to neutral, unhappy, or stressed.

We now know the importance of happiness, but is it possible to generate positivity amidst the stresses and challenges of school? Luckily, research demonstrates that positive thinking can be trained and improved. If we take the time to build positivity into our daily lives and actively think about how we are feeling, positivity can indeed become habitual. Let me share three techniques which can help boost your happiness over time.

  1. Pay attention to the good: dedicate five minutes of each day to reflect or write about a positive experience which made you feel grateful or happy that day. Forcing ourselves to remember and write about something positive forces us to identify and pay attention to the positive events in our daily lives. By selectively writing about positive experiences, we can re-train our minds to brew on positive experiences rather than the negative or stressful ones.
  2. Engage with your social networks: if you’re anything like me, you like to spend time with your friends. Spending time with your friends (but not too much time – everything in sensible moderation!), is healthy, important, and fun. However, facing stress, we too often (myself included) withdraw from our social supports and seclude ourselves to soldier through our academic challenges alone. We shouldn’t have to. Our social supports are critical to our health and are major predictors of our happiness and success. We are told to stop doing things we enjoy when our workload increases, but our social circles should not be neglected.
  3. Weekly 150: Okay, you have likely heard enough about this one from everyone at Queen’s, but the frequency which you receive this advice should give you a clue about its importance. In the simplest terms: exercise makes you happy. Doing even 15 minutes of light cardio a day is clinically proven to improve your mood and boost productivity.

There are an endless number of strategies to increase your happiness. I have given you only three strategies so that you can take small steps toward cultivating your current happiness and benefit from The Happiness Advantage. Don’t let their simplicity fool you- growing your happiness in an environment which encourages us to sacrifice it is more challenging that you may think! I still struggle with these strategies all the time, but I firmly believe that in the long run, cultivating, rather than sacrificing your happiness is worth it.

 

A note on mental health: despite our best efforts to practice these strategies, happiness can be elusive. If you feel that you are overwhelmed or are dissatisfied with the level of happiness that you feel do talk to someone who can help you. They know what they are doing. It’s worth it.

Some Resources:

Queen’s Student Wellness Services: Counselling

Queen’s Student Wellness Services: Mental Health

Good 2 Talk

The content of this blog post is largely based on Shawn Anchor’s The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

Achor, S. (2010). The happiness advantage: The seven principles of positive psychology that fuel success and performance at work. New York: Broadway Books.

Photo courtesy of Greg Wagoner under Flickr Creative Commons Attribution license 2.0