Jef Claes

On software and life

12 Jan 2014

Happiness before success

Somewhere in the beginning of last century, two shoes salesmen were sent to Africa hoping to expand their employer’s market. Both salesmen reported home within days of their arrival. The first salesman wrote: “This trip turned out to be a waste of time; the locals are not wearing any shoes.” The second salesman wrote something similar, yet very different: “This is looking very promising; people aren’t wearing any shoes yet!”

A group of seventy year olds was invited to spend a week in a remote location where everything was arranged to make it feel as if they went back in time twenty years; they would get to read old news papers, were shown recorded television shows etc… They were also asked to talk about their jobs and kids as if it were twenty years ago. Once the week was over, medical exams showed extraordinary results. Their health had improved noticeably; their eyesight improved, their blood pressure went down, their posture had changed…

In another experiment, a group of people was trained into using a new piece of software. Half of the class was taught to prevent errors from happening, while the other half was encouraged to make mistakes. A test afterwards showed that the group that had learned by making mistakes was a lot faster and efficient using the software than the group that was taught to avoid errors at all costs.

The mind is incredibly powerful; it’s in full control of how we perceive things. One might be poor, having to live off a few dollars a day, and be perfectly content with his situation. While someone on the other side of the world might have everything he can imagine at his fingertips, but be completely miserable.

Popular belief dictates that if you work hard, you will eventually become successful, and once you’re successful, then you’ll be happy. This recipe is elementally flawed. With each victory, we put our eyes on that next big thing, never arriving at happiness.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor starts by claiming that we have it all wrong, and that it’s actually the other way round; happiness leads to success. Positive brains make us more efficient, creative, thoughtful and productive, boosting performance at work and at home. While the first few pages make a great sales pitch, the rest of the book differs from the usual life improvement charlatans backing up this hypothesis with narratives and DIY practices extracted from modern happiness research.

The book turned out to be a very casual read; the writing is easy and it only counts two hundred small pages - I finished it in a few hours. It has inspired me to try and be more conscious about how I deal with certain things, to always focus on the good, not allowing negativity to slowly poison me.

Quotes from the book

If all you strive is diminishing the bad, you’ll only attain the average and you’ll miss out entirely on the opportunity to exceed the average. 

Happiness is not just a mood - it’s a work ethic. 

It takes about three positive comments, experiences, or expressions to fend off the languishing effects of one negative. 

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.
The fastest way to disengage an employee is to tell him his work is meaningful only because of the paycheck. 

Constantly scanning the world for the negative comes with a great cost. It undercuts our creativity, raises our stress levels, and lowers our motivation and ability to accomplish goals. 

Common sense is not common action. 

Couldn’t the key to sustaining positive change be to turn each desired action into a habit, so that it would come automatically, without much effort, thought, or choice? 

This invisible pull toward the path of least resistance can dictate more of our lives than we realize, creating an impassible barrier to change and positive growth. 

Lower the activation energy for habits you want to adopt, and raise it for habits you want to avoid.