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Stop sweating success; work on your happiness in the present

Success doesn't bring happiness, according to one researcher. Happiness brings success. (AP Photo/File)

In just a few days, we’ll be ringing in the New Year and most of us will make a bunch of resolutions we’ll break in the first week.

According to a former Harvard researcher, the best resolution you can make to truly impact your life is to work on being happy – right now.

We’ve all heard the advice that if we work hard, we will be successful. In turn, if we are more successful, then we will be happy.

Shawn Achor is a psychologist and former Harvard professor who says that formula is wrong.

The way of thinking is both scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. “First, every time your brain has a success, you just change the goal posts of what success looks like,” says Achor.

You get good grades? Now you have to get better grades. You go to a good school? Now you have to go to a better school. You have a good job? Now you have to get a better job. You hit your sales target? Now you have to change your sales target.

“If happiness is on the side of success, your brain never gets there.”

After researching Harvard students and many Fortune 500 companies for over a decade, Achor says he found that happiness fuels success, not the other way around.

Your external world, like your job or how much money you have, do not predict your happiness level.

“If I know everything about your external world I can only predict 10 percent of your long term happiness,” says Achor. Meanwhile, 90 percent of your long term happiness is no predicted by the external world, but instead by how your brain processes the world.

“If we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is then change the way that we can then affect reality.”

So instead of thinking that you have to lose 40 pounds or make $200,000 a year before you’ll be happy you should focus on raising your positivity in the present. By doing that you give your brain what Achor calls, “the happiness advantage.”

“Your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral, stressed. You intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy rises,” says Achor. “In fact, what we found is every single business outcome improves.”

If you’re positive, your brain is 31 percent more productive than it is in a negative state.

If you’re skeptical about this, Achor says his research has shown that we can re-program our brains to become more positive in 21 days.

Here’s what he says you can do:

  • Write down three new things you are grateful for each day
  • Spend two minutes a day, writing all the details about a positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours
  • Exercise or do something you enjoy for at least ten minutes a day
  • Write one quick email, first thing in the morning, thanking or praising someone who’s in your social support network

    It will be like working out your brain. When you feel more positive the dopamine floods into your system and turns on all the learning centers in your brain, allowing you to see the world in a different way.

    By doing these activities and by training your brain, just like how we train our bodies, Achor found a way to reduce the formula for happiness and success. It not only creates ripples of positivity but it creates a real revolution.

    Achor is the CEO of Good Think Inc., a global consulting firm that researches positive outliers. He’s also written several books, including “The Happiness Advantage” and talks all over the world.

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