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Happiness: The Pursuit of a Good Life

Happiness: the Pursuit of a Good Life

Happiness: the Pursuit of a Good LifeWhat better way to start the year than with an introduction to the science of Happiness?

And it’s not just a thriving area of scientific research. It’s also a predictably fertile topic for popular science books. On my shelf, I have:

  • Authentic Happiness, by Martin Seligman (2003) (US|UK)
  • Happiness: Lessons from a New Science, by Richard Layard (2005) (US|UK)
  • Happiness, The Science Behind Your Smile, by Daniel Nettle (2005) (US|UK)
  • The Happiness Hypothesis, by Jonathan Haidt (2006) (US|UK)
  • Happier, by Tal ben-Shahar (2008) (US|UK)
  • The Happiness Advantage, by Shawn Achor (2010) (US|UK)

And I have stopped collecting.

Of these final five, it’s the last that stands out for those of us interested in management. Its subtitle is ‘The Seven Principles that Fuel Success and Performance at Work’. 

All of these books apply principles learned from Positive Psychology, so we must consider the first of them to be the grand-daddy. Martin Seligman is, after all, more than anyone else responsible for founding the discipline of Positive Psychology.

The Components of Authentic Happiness

Form Seligman’s book, we learn about some of the pillars of a happy life:

– An optimistic outlook

– Savouring the present

– Choosing work that accords with your strengths

– Loving personal relationships

Layering on the Happiness

Each book adds layers to our understanding of happiness, by addressing the topic of how to be happy from a different angle. 

An Economic Perspective on Happiness

Richard Layard, for example, is an economist. So, his book has economics at its core. It starts from the simple observation that more wealth and material possessions do not make us happier. Once we achieve a level that assures our security, other factors come into play.

And for that, Layard looks at insights from the social sciences and from philosophy. This book is not so much about how to be happy, as it is about happiness as a concept.

A Biological Perspective on Happiness

Nettle is a psychologist and he is able to present us with plenty of biological facts behind what it is that gives us a feeling of happiness. And perhaps much of that resides in your brain, so he offers us some solid neuro-science too.

Unlike the Positive Psychology, Nettle chooses not to focus on the long-term flourishing aspect of our happiness. But neither does he concentrate on fleeting emotions of joy and pleasure that arise from a hedonistic approach. Rather, he goes for the middle ground of how we can sustain a sense of well-being and satisfaction with our lives.

A Philosophical Investigation of Happiness

Haidt is a psychologist, who sets out to compare the findings of modern psychological science with the more traditional formulas for happiness that philosophers have conjured. And, along with philosophy, Haidt also tackles religion to consider the evidence for and against a number of hypotheses for what makes us happy.

To cut a long (and excellent) book short, Haidt’s favoured happiness hypothesis melds ancient traditions like Buddhism and Stoicism, with modern science. Happiness is an internal process, that also relies on external factors. Along the way, he sets out many practical ways to improve your happiness.

A Self-Help Approach to Happiness

Ben-Shahar’s approach is the most nearly a self-help manual. But, as another highly respected academic, the research behind his recommendations is up-to-date and impeccable. His book reads a little like a Positive Psychology primer and is none the worse for that. 

Scattered through this book are invitations to reflect on aspects of your life. So, with a combination of simply stated principles and practical lessons, this book is, more than any of the others, about learning how to be happy.

A Workplace Perspective on Happiness

Achor’s book is the one that targets workplace happiness. And its reputation receives a huge boost from Achor’s hugely popular TED talk with over 20 million views to date.

However, it’s worth noting that, as good as they are, Achor’s seven principles are not new. He just dresses them in smart new clothes. And, like authors such as Gladwell, the Heath Brothers, and Surowiecki, he uses copious stories to make his ideas easily accessible.

Let’s have a brief look at each:

  1. The Happiness Advantage
    This section offers practical tools to boost your present happiness (Nettle’s focus), like exercise, meditation, and acts of kindness.
  2. The Fulcrum and the Lever
    Achor’s second principle is about the power of mindset and the mental attitude you choose. Where you place your fulcrum will dictate the effect of the lever.
  3. The Tetris Effect
    This is about allowing ourselves to spot the opportunities that are present in our lives
  4. Falling Up
    Achor’s principle takes from cognitive behavioral therapy’ ABCDE model the importance of how we frame events as either a disaster, failure, setback, or lesson.  
  5. The Zorro Circle
    If we set small, achievable goals, we can gradually work up to bigger ones. This is reminiscent of Covey’s Circles of Concern
  6. The 20-second Rule
    This is Achor’s way of articulating the principle that constant repetition builds new habits. And, if you choose the right habits to work on, you can transform your happiness.
  7. Social Investment
    The huge value of close relationships and a network of social support

What is Your experience of Happiness?

We’d love to hear your experiences, ideas, and questions. Please leave them in the comments below.

This is our first article in 2020…

We wish you a very Happy, Healthy, and Successful New Year.

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