If happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there

There are days (or weeks and months) when I feel like I’m stuck. Nothing I do is fulfilling, I feel as if I’m not progressing or achieving success and I don’t know what to do to change my situation. Even my face is stuck — in a perpetual frown!

I anchor my happiness to very specific things that I feel I need to do or should do, but I don’t even know what those things are. The cycle never ends: I don’t know the what, so there is no how and there is definitely no when in sight.

I’m in one of these slumps now. Grad school? New job? Strike out on my own? Buy an ice cream shop?

In my last Ted Talk post, I highlighted a few pieces of advice from James Cameron’s presentation on achieving childhood dreams. “Failure is an option but fear is not,” he said.

I’m not stalled by fear, I’m stalled by indecision. I don’t know which direction to take, gauge to use, to measure my success. Without a success story, I can’t be happy.

The Ted Talk I choose this week, given by Shawn Achor, is about my current dilemma. “…we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.

The main barrier to happiness is the evolving and expanding definition of success. We’re aiming at a moving target, taught that we’ve got to do better than our previous best, live in a better apartment, drive a better car…

At work we’re told “You did great this year, but next year we expect you to do even better because you’ve just set a new bar for yourself.” In social circles, we secretly compare lives, guestimate salaries and compliment one another on our new material goods. And internally, we’re our own worst enemies — “…every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like.You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job…”

How can we keep outdoing ourselves? Where will it stop?

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

Shawn hypothesizes that we should and can reverse the formula — get happy first to work more successfully:

If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31 percent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37 percent better at sales. Doctors are 19 percent faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed.Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.

His research proves the old adage that “Attitude is 100%“, something my mom loves referring to all the time.

But how do we get there — how do I get there when I’ve been in such slump for so long that an attitude change seems impossible?

We’ve found that there are ways that you can train your brain to be able to become more positive. In just a two-minute span of time done for 21 days in a row, we can actually rewire your brain, allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully...write down three new things that they’re grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day. And at the end of that, the brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.

The challenge: Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.

Let’s see if that’s something I can do for the next 21 days and if it’s a challenge that can help you too. Happiness and success should be playing on the same side.


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