Book (Review)s to Change Your Life: Before Happiness

Before Happiness: the 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change by Shawn Achor

Before the Information Age, a researcher wrote a book for professionals and other passionate people on how to be a more effective person. That man was Stephen Covey, and his book was The Seven Habits for Highly Effective People. As a researcher, Covey had studied hundreds of “self-help” and “self-improvement” business books to uncover a better, more effective way of doing business and leaving a legacy.  I’m a Covey fan, and I know that I compare every book I read in the self help / business section to his ground-breaking opus of 1989. That’s right – Covey first published his book in 1989… years before the internet and the Information Age allowed us access to so many more ways to be effective and thrive in business. Some might say that with our access to all of this information we no longer need a researcher to tell us how to live a better life. The truth is we need researchers to tell us this more than ever before!

Twenty-two years later, Shawn Achor gave his infamous TedTalk on the Happiness Advantage.  Achor is a researcher of human potential, the science of happiness, and how to increase our performance in everyday lives.  What stood out most of all in Achor’s TedTalk was his ability to use humour to weave together stories from his own life in to the research he had done himself or found within positive psychology. Actually, that’s a lie – what stood out most was the story of his sister, the unicorn, and his brother-in-law’s struggle with menopause. Those are some amazing stories, so I strongly encourage you to check out that Ted Talk here: Shawn Achor: The Happy Secret to Better Work

Did you watch it? Then you have just witnessed Achor’s ability to touch on so much of our lives within just 12 minutes and 13 seconds.  That is exactly what he continues to do in his latest book, Before Happiness: the 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change.


Why Is It Life Changing?

With such an array of examples, advice on how to incorporate the environment for sustained happiness in your life, and ideas that contradict what most people believe about success, there is bound to be something in this book that will speak to you.  The book is structured into 5 strategies that will encourage the reader to create happiness and success in their life. It begins with establishing a new way of looking at how we define our reality. Then, he goes on to explain how to choose the most positive reality for happiness and success to grow in. Once that is established, Achor explains how we can maintain the momentum of success and reaching our goals. There are then theories and practises shared on how to eliminate negativity in your world so that happiness persists. Finally, he leaves the reader with strategies on how to help others reach happiness and success, and a call to action to do so.

An idea that really stood out for me was Achor’s advice on encouraging creativity.  Research has found that those who are able to recognize alternative – new – realities and adjust to them will find themselves happier and more successful.  This is extremely relevant to building our resiliency in uncertain times, something that many professionals will have to do in their lifetime.  Through a case study, Achor explains that “those who embraced their new reality bounced back, while those who clung stubbornly to their old reality became mired in helplessness and defeat.”  How many times have you been disappointed merely by the fact that reality did not meet your expectations?  I know that I feel this most often on Boxing Day, but as an adult I am getting better with the “Holiday Hangover.”

Achor does not just explain what successful people or companies have done to maintain or build happiness and success. He also provides examples of how real companies have overcome adversity. One of his examples is from Kimball Electronics, who used to design pianos. Once electric organs became more popular than pianos and took over Kimball’s market share, the company faced a dismal future. Instead of collapsing, Kimball “sat down and decided to look not at their deficits but at their resources, and in doing so they realized they had a wealth of electronic experts who now had time on their hands to innovate.” By looking at what resources they did have rather than the customers that they no longer had, the company could overcome this setback and “today they make the electronic steering systems for Fiats” and other electronics.

Life is not just about success in the business world, though, and it is always good to read books that address our holistic happiness and success. Achor brings in several examples of life outside of work throughout this book. My favourite tidbit was The Positivity Ratio. Research has shown that “when people have three positive thoughts to every negative thought, they are more optimistic, are happier, and feel more fulfilled.”  This is surprising for many of us who still follow the “sandwich format” of giving feedback. The sandwich recognizes that constructive criticism is good, but we also need positive reinforcement to encourage us. The Positivity Ratio explains that the ratio of positive reinforcement to constructive criticism is much higher than the bread in a sandwich to the filling. In order to thrive, we need three times as much positivity as negativity.  In relationships, this ratio for success goes up to 5:1, which is what I found most applicable to my life.  As Achor points out, if a spouse hurts their spouse, they have to make up for it with not just one box of chocolate, but five!  Now that is information that is life changing.

People reading and carrying stacks of books
People reading and carrying stacks of books

Who Should Read This?

Have you ever struggled to stay motivated? Do you look around and wonder why everybody else seems to be more successful or happier than you? Then, you need to read this book! With subtle perspective shifts and illustrative stories, Achor explains how you can take control of your life and start creating the happiness and success that you always wanted.

Achor is a true story-teller. Every page contains some element to a story that he is using to illustrate a more complicated element to the research he has found on happiness. Those stories are easy to relate to while also being quite diversified.  Every reader can make a connection to what he is writing about in the book.

What Could Make This Book Better?

In the first read, the plethora of information can be overwhelming.  Luckily, Achor summarizes his major points at the end of each chapter in a numbered list of how you can live the principles he was addressing in the chapter.

It would be great if there was a better way to integrate what he is talking about into anybody’s life. Although the tips at the end are great if you follow them, there is nothing to keep you accountable to holding them but yourself. Creating a timeline for implementation would be a great way to enhance the principles discussed in the book. The tips are also all at the end of the very long chapters, which makes it more difficult to integrate the ideas as you are reading about each one. I suggest taking some time while reading the book to make notes on how you are doing or going to do this in your life going forward. Read a section of the book, and then journal about your reaction to the new information Achor has just given you.

Even if you don’t integrate the whole book, there is going to be something that you can take away from this book.  There are so many gems for finding our inner resources in this book that I am definitely going to be reading it over and over again to gain more insight every time.  I highly suggest picking it up, and learning something about designing your happiness today!

Also, check out Shawn Achor’s website Good Think for tips, tricks, and updated information on creating a world where there is more happiness! #MakeHappinessHappen

What Else Might You Like

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey

Yes, I love this book! And, although it was written 26 years ago, it is still relevant today. Like Achor’s approach to the holistic success and happiness of the reader, Covey addresses more than just the “Professional” reading his book. He challenges what and how you might have thought about your roles, goals, and purpose in this life and encourages everybody to create a legacy of their life that they will be proud to life out.