Tag Archives: Positive

Shawn Achor and the happiness advantage

This post was first published on the blog of TEDxAmsterdam. TED’s library contains about fifty talks on happiness. After the post about the flow of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, this is the second article in my series of articles under the title TED & Happiness. In this talk, I want to introduce Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and happiness researcher. His message is simple: happiness works. With humor and self-mockery, he reveals how our mental well-being is linked to a positive outlook on life.

A positive outlook

Shawn Achor

Shawn Achor, source: Good Think inc.

Shawn Achor begins his twelve minute happy rollercoaster ride with a simple anecdote illustrating how fundamental optimism is for our happiness. Seven-year-old Shawn was a reckless little boy. Playing war, he happened to throw his five-year-old sister Amy from her bed. Tears began to fill her eyes. But he managed to turn the situation around with: “Amy, you landed on all fours. That means… you must be a unicorn!” he said, keeping her calm and avoiding being punished by his parents.

The mechanism is simple, but it works! Changing our lens changes our happiness. Positive psychologists have shown that the way we experience our lives is a factor that explains some of the variation in our happiness (a scientifically important nuance – it does not directly predict our happiness,  though some people, even scholars, believe that optimism always creates happiness). And a happy, positive outlook in turn has a ripple effect, making experiences of life more pleasant: the happiness advantage, as Achor calls it.

See his short pitch of the idea in this video.

Reverse the formula for happiness

Nowadays, our assumption simply is that we need to do. If we do things well, we are successful. And when we become successful, we should be happy. But there is a problem: we are never satisfied. When we reach the finish line, we move the goalposts of success, and start all over again.

Let’s take a look at an example. When we graduate, what we want is a job. When we have a job, we want a better salary. Then we want more responsibility, etc. When we have achieved a goal, we repeat this cycle and look at the next goal, thus continuously pushing success towards a horizon we can never reach.

Achor asks us to reverse the formula. What if we reach success when we are happy? What if we work well, because we are happy? And what if it is happiness that inspires productivity instead of the other way around?

The happiness advantage: accomplishment & gratitude

Happiness starts with simple things. A feeling of accomplishment. Learning, creativity and developments. But above all: gratitude with the achievements of every little day.

Achor has a simple recipe for that. Spend two minutes a day for three weeks thinking about optimism and success. Everyday, write down three new things you are grateful for. If you do that for three weeks, it will have a lasting effect.

That’s the happiness advantage.

Thanks to Tori Egherman for editing.

Utopia – the reality TV edition

Big Brother is watching you.

George Orwell wrote it in 1949, Edward Snowden revealed how sharp his eyes are only last year. But in 1999 in the Netherlands, and soon everywhere around the globe, everybody was watching Big Brother. The first daily reality TV show taught us that people behave, well, quite ordinarily when you lock them up in a house full of cameras for five months.

Reality TV has come a long way since.  For the latest hit, Big Brother’s creatorDutch media mogul John de Mol, has taken Thomas More instead of George Orwell as his source of inspiration. The concept of Utopia sounds amazing: 15 people are dropped in a freezing lodge for a year. All they get is a plot of land, two cows, twenty chickens and a nice 10k in cash to get through the first months. They’re there with one aim: to build a new society. Utopia!

Petty fights

Whether the group will achieve its goal is uncertain: “Ultimate happiness or complete chaos“, says the tagline. “Will it be heaven or will it be hell“, asks the lead in the opening song. The format of the social experiment is intriguing. The show is basically 1960s/1970s commune meets 21st century reality TV. Most of the show is strikingly similar to its cousins of ordinary reality TV. A lot of the day is filled with petty fights caused by silly behaviour or miscommunication. Alfa male of the group, professional wrestler Emil, eats more than his ration; builder Paul, the self-appointed leader, loses his cool. Anybody leaves their dishes; housewife Vanessa loses her cool. Anybody says anything slightly critical; brilliantly cast ‘life artist’ Billy (a lady) loses her cool with all of them – cows included.

As a show, Utopia is a success. It has about 1 million viewers a day and the American rights have just been sold to Fox. Though the daily storyline is a bit thin, there’s enough to make a nice realistic soap. One of the problems is that some parts seem too scripted and staged. The 15 Utopians, as they’re called, are not as isolated from the outside world – or instructions from the producers – as the TV channel would like us to believe.

Human resilience

As a society, it is hard to say whether Utopia is successful. So far it’s characterised by a bit of daily progress and a dose of bigger and smaller fights that ensure that the show won’t be taken off air. But some Utopians get enough of the fights, the hunger and the cold. Two have left already.  The biggest problem is that the group lacks a common goal. Full democracy is a laudable goal, but the group is too diverse and insufficiently strategic. Some people are there with a clear intent to build a different world. Others are more down to earth and just want to have fun or be famous.

Overall, the group show an amazing resilience in front of their problems. Their lack of food, heating, loved ones and all basic amenities of daily life – worst, no wifi! But still, the negative moments are countered by others positive ones. The regular pep-talks following the crises take them to believe in their community again.

A real Utopia does not exist. But maybe Utopia only arises from a constant battle of positive and negative energy – the interaction of happiness and chaos.

Promo, in Dutch: