Book review: The Happiness Advantage

A couple of years ago, I made the choice to take a more focused approach with my reading. Instead of sprinkling personal development reads in with my fun reads, I chose to separate them into their own list. I also decided that I would dedicate time each morning to reading those books. The purpose was (is) two-fold:

  1. I wanted to develop better habits to manage my behaviors and actions; and
  2. I wanted to start the day with positive energy and thoughts, which you don’t get from reading the daily news or from morning talk shows

My adventure has been both interesting and rewarding. What’s interesting is that once you make the choice to explore a specific genre of books, you discover that the depth of books in that genre is limitless. In addition to getting tips from Amazon’s relentless recommendation engine, the books themselves contain their own recommendations, reading lists, and resources to explore. 

Such is how I discovered The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Anchor. The book was suggested reading in The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson, which was one of my top reads for 2017. So it should come as no surprise that The Happiness Advantage was one of my top suggested reads for 2018. So yes, even though I finished the book over a year ago, here is my review.

When I opened the book on my Kindle to review my notes for this review, it opened to a passage that was one of my key takeaways from the book and summarizes it well:

It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive.

In other words, as is also pointed out at the beginning of the book, happiness is not the result of success, happiness is the precursor to success.

That last thought is so fundamentally important that it bears repeating and emphasis – happiness is the precursor to success.

For too many people, happiness is treated is a destination that you reach when some event happens. The event can be anything – getting a raise, being promoted, getting married, owning a house, going on a vacation to Hawaii. What we find too often is achieving that event does not result in a state of happiness, because happiness is not a state of mind. It’s not a destination. Happiness, as Anchor points out, is an emotion. It’s a feeling that we choose to feel, and the more we choose to feel happiness, the more likely we are to achieve success.

At first pass, it seems counter-intuitive. Why? Because that’s not what we’re taught in our traditional school environment. We’re taught that if we work hard, if we suffer, if we persevere through pain, we will be rewarded, and  we will be successful. And when we achieve success, we will achieve a state of happiness. In The Happiness Advantage, Anchor reveals how new research in psychology and neuroscience proves just the opposite:

We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.

It means that we are all left with a choice of how we approach each day and how we process what happens to us every day. I’ll let Anchor’s words speak for themselves again:

Because our brain’s resources are limited, we are left with a choice: to use those finite resources to see only pain, negativity, stress, and uncertainty, or to use those resources to look at things through a lens of gratitude, hope, resilience, optimism, and meaning. In other words, while we of course can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone, we can use our brain to change how we process the world, and that in turn changes how we react to it. Happiness is not about lying to ourselves, or turning a blind eye to the negative, but about adjusting our brain so that we see the ways to rise above our circumstances.

It would seem that this all sounds very “new age” – if we will it, it will happen. But as you see in the passage above, Anchor acknowledges that we “can’t change reality through sheer force of will alone.” Instead, it takes us making conscious choices, developing positive habits, and effort, which leads to the most important set of takeaways from The Happiness Advantage – The Seven Principles that Anchor outlines to help one down the path of developing a happier, more positive outlook.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, The Happiness Advantage is one of my Must Reads. It’s one of my essential books on achieving an improved personal mindset. It ranks right up there with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Power of Positive Thinking, The Slight Edge, and others. Even if you don’t agree with his theories or adopt his Seven Principles, the book is worth reading. As I said at the beginning of last year, it will certainly make you evaluate how you look at yourself, and how you look at the people and world around you.