Happiness, success and self-esteem

As with a lot of people, I’ve taken to watching TED Talks. If you’re not familiar with TED Talks, I encourage you to search for the talks on the Internet and watch the ones that intrigue you. In official terms, TED is “a global set of conferences run by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation under the motto, ideas worth spreading.” In general terms, TED Talks are insightful, inspiring speeches

“Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

As with a lot of people, I’ve taken to watching TED Talks. If you’re not familiar with TED Talks, I encourage you to search for the talks on the Internet and watch the ones that intrigue you. In official terms, TED is “a global set of conferences run by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation under the motto, ideas worth spreading.” In general terms, TED Talks are insightful, inspiring speeches — typically no longer than 18 minutes — on every imaginable subject.

Recently, I watched a TED Talk entitled The Happy Secret to Better Work by Shawn Achor — American educator, author and advocate of positive psychology. As it turns out, Achor’s “Happy Secret” is among the 20 most viewed talks of all time. To give you a little background, Achor spent 12 years at Harvard University studying what makes people happy. Later, he wrote the best-seller The Happiness Advantage and founded the Institute of Positive Research.

I was intrigued when Achor spoke about one of the most common myths of our modern culture: “If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier.” According to Achor, the belief statement simply doesn’t work or, as he puts it, it’s “scientifically broken and backwards.” Apparently, there are two main reasons why this is the case.

“First, every time your brain has a success, you change the goalpost of what success looks like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades. You got into a good school, now you have to get into a better school. You got a good job, now you have to get a better job. You hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target.”

Achor claims that “happiness is on the opposite side of success” so our brain never quite finds its way there. “We’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society.”

In essence, if we put off being happy until we are successful (whatever that might look like) it’s not going to happen. It appears (according to Achor) that our brains just don’t work that way. Achor claims that if we allow ourselves to experience happiness in the present, we’re going to enjoy a lot more success. By raising our “level of positivity in the present” we can actually raise our intelligence, creativity and energy levels.

That’s a bold statement but Achor says his exhaustive research conducted over 12 years at Harvard University supports his assertion.

“Your brain at positive is 31 per cent more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed,” declares Achor. “You’re 37 per cent better at sales. Doctors are 19 per cent faster and more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed. 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.”

“And,” says Achor, “every single business outcome improves.”

Achor’s research is by no means the only source for such assertions. Countless studies have demonstrated that positive changes in physiology and psychology can be derived from a more positive outlook. Studies in neuroplasticity show that changes in neural pathways and synapses occur when changes are made in behaviour, environment, thinking, emotions and beliefs.

Often, in my self-esteem work, I talk about happiness being a choice.

Some clients are quick to embrace the concept while others struggle with a victim mentality. I have kept a gratitude journal for many years and can attest to the power of positive expressions of gratitude. I recommend that everyone keep a journal and get into the habit of noting the positive. This needn’t be an onerous task. Here’s all you do to get started. Once a day, for 21 days, write down three new things in your life that you’re grateful for. If Achor’s claims are correct then your brain will begin scanning your environment not for the negative, but for the positive. As someone once told me, “We become (or experience) what we think about most of the time.”

If this seems burdensome, you can add some fun to the equation by making a pact with a friend. Once a day, email a buddy describing something good that you experienced over the past 24 hours. Ask them to do the same. It’s a fun way to retrain your brain. All it takes is an act of will. Sure, it’ll seem a little odd at first but will soon become fun and inspirational. Involve a few people and take turns. Start your own gratitude group and see where it goes.

A few years ago, I tried an interesting experiment. I sent an email to a different person each day for a week telling them what I liked best about them, how they inspired me and the valuable life-lessons I had learned from them. Some people were confused by my emails while others wondered about my motivation. Most people, however, were grateful and gracious.

“Success is not the key to happiness,” wrote Albert Schweitzer, theologian, philosopher and physician. “Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” Perhaps Schweitzer intuitively knew what Achor would assert many years later.

Even if Achor’s assertions are overly optimistic, there’s still great value in choosing to live a life of passion and purpose: a happy and grateful existence that’s anchored in the present.

Murray Fuhrer is a self-esteem expert and facilitator. His recent book is entitled Extreme Esteem: The Four Factors. For more information on self-esteem, check the Extreme Esteem website at www.extremeesteem.ca.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Rocky Mountain House RCMP are investigating a fatal collision involving a pedestrian on Feb. 27. (File photo by Advocate staff)
Rocky Mountain House RCMP investigate fatal pedestrian collision

Collision occured west of Rocky on Highway 11A

A cross-country skier glides along the banks of the Ottawa River in Ottawa on Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. Canadians across the country can look forward to a mild spring peppered with the odd winter flashback throughout the first part of the season, according to predictions from one prominent national forecaster. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick
Mild spring with some wintry blasts predicted for most of Canada: Weather Network

March will be dramatically warmer through the prairies

Bharat Masrani, CEO, TD Bank Group speaks at the Economic Club of Canada in Toronto on Wednesday, November 1, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Five things to watch for in the Canadian business world in the coming week

Shares in metals and mining companies have rebounded sharply

A worker carrying a disinfectant sprayer walks past a WestJet Airlines Boeing 737-800 aircraft, after cleaning another plane at Vancouver International Airport, in Richmond, B.C., on Thursday, January 21, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
WestJet to lay off undisclosed number of pilots amid labour negotiations

Layoff notices to go out ahead of the expiration of a memorandum of agreement

A dose of COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at a vaccination clinic in Montreal’s Olympic Stadium on Tuesday, February 23, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson
Feds hoping for AstraZeneca shots this week as Pfizer-BioNTech prepare next delivery

Canada has ordered 24 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine

Red Deer dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped save a missing pet recently. The two dogs have more than 80,000 followers on Twitter. (Contributed photo)
WATCH: Red Deer science dogs help save lost pet

Red Deer science-communicating dogs Bunsen and Beaker helped rescue a missing pet… Continue reading

A ” Justice for Jeff” T-shirt. (Photo submitted)
Rally to be held outside Red Deer courthouse for slain Ponoka man

Sentencing for accused charged with manslaughter with a firearm set for March 4

Team Canada skip Kerri Einarson makes a shot against Team Alberta as second Shannon Birchard, right, and lead Briane Meilleur sweep in the semi-final at the Scotties Tournament of Hearts in Calgary, Alta., Sunday, Feb. 28, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Kerri Einarson wins second straight Canadian women’s curling championship

Einarson and her teammates celebrated Sunday in the silence in an empty arena

Amy Poehler and Tina Fey hosted the Golden Globes on Feb. 28, 2021. (Photo by THE ASSOCIATED PRESS)
With loved ones and pets, Globes winners embrace cozier show

Nicole Kidman and musician-husband Keith Urban got glammed up to sit on their couch

The cast of “Schitt’s Creek” pose for a photo after winning the Award for Best Comedy Series at the Canadian Screen Awards in Toronto on March 31, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
Schitt’s Creek nabs two Golden Globes for its final season

Catherine O’Hara named best television actress in a musical or comedy

Alberta Premier Jason Kenney speaks during a news conference in Edmonton on Feb. 24, 2020. It’s budget day in the province, and Kenney’s United Conservative government is promising more help in the fight against COVID, but more red ink on the bottom line. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
Alberta Premier slams vandalism after slur painted on MLA’s office window

EDMONTON — Alberta Premier Jason Kenney is condemning alleged vandalism at the… Continue reading

Canada Pension Plan Investment Board President and Chief Executive Officer Mark Machin waits to appear at the Standing Committee on Finance on Parliament Hill, in Ottawa on Tuesday, November 1, 2016. Executives who engage in so-called "vaccine tourism" show both an ethical disregard for those less fortunate and a surprising lack of business acumen, experts argue. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Vaccine tourism is both unethical and bad for business, experts say

Executives who engage in so-called “vaccine tourism” show both an ethical disregard… Continue reading

Edmonton Oilers' Jesse Puljujarvi (13) and Toronto Maple Leafs' Justin Holl (3) battle in front as goalie Jack Campbell (36) makes the save during second period NHL action in Edmonton on Saturday, February 27, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jason Franson
No Matthews, no problem: Minus NHL goal leader, Maple Leafs blank Oilers 4-0

Leafs 4 Oilers 0 EDMONTON — The Maple Leafs knew even with… Continue reading

Leader of the Government in the House of Commons Pablo Rodriguez rises during Question Period in the House of Commons on Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Gummed-up bills in House of Commons: harbinger of a federal election?

OTTAWA — All federal party leaders maintain they don’t want an election… Continue reading

Most Read