Sunday, January 24, 2016 Gabby Bill 0 Comments

Drop what you're doing right now and go read Shawn Achor's book, The Happiness Advantage.

Ok, just kidding, read this blog post first and then go buy his book. It'll make you happier and more inspired, just in the reading. I promise.

In the process of becoming a full-time career coach, I've become more and more interested in psychology (although truth be told, I've been interested in the subject since Mrs. DiRenzo's AP Psychology class my senior year of high school). And while therapy (what most people think of when they think of psychology careers) and coaching are two very different fields, both lines of work exist thanks to people's interest in, and people's need for help sorting through, the myriad of thoughts running through their brains.

It's the power of the brain, along with our ability to control our destiny through shifts in thought, that serves as the central theme of Shawn's book. And this is not just a man making empty statements about how we can all be happier; rather, it's him retelling one interesting study after another that proves we're in significantly greater control of our emotions and realities than we might imagine. (In case you're wondering, the book is also really well written. No stuffy, science-y gobbledygook in here; just conversational writing that'll make you feel like you actually know Shawn.)

In the book, he walks you through his "7 principles" to achieving greater happiness, and because I want you to actually read it, I'm not going to spoil the surprise. I'll tell you this much: each of them rests on the foundational beliefs that 1) happiness is the precursor to success, not the other way around and 2) old dogs, new dogs, big dogs and small dogs can all learn new tricks (or stated more intelligently, thanks to neuroplasticity, you can indeed rewire you brain).

These things spoke to me because they mirror the core mantras of my coaching business -- that you're going to be significantly more successful in your job if it makes you feel fulfilled AND that finding your dream job is possible, primarily because we all define "happiness" in a way that's unique to us (versus some arbitrary standard of what makes a job good).

But even beyond my business, these principles actually changed my mindset and physical sensations as I was reading the book.

Let's get personal for a minute: I've had a rough couple of weeks. Some things in my personal life haven't gone as planned, and I've come up against some challenges in my business that have left me feeling discouraged. Sad as I am to admit it, I've become a bit of a sourpuss, and as much as I hate it, I've been stuck in a rut that I couldn't pull myself out of.

It's not as though reading this book has made my problems go away, but it has re-focused my thinking patterns and reminded me that I'm in control of how I view my situation. Even beyond that, it's reminded me that I'm in control of changing my situation. With each chapter I read, I felt a little better about myself, a little more positive about the future and a little more inspired to get my head back in the game. I even took six pages of handwritten notes, not only of some amazing concepts I want to remember, but also some practical tips I'm going to get started on this evening (like spending the last 10 minutes before bed writing down all of the good things that happened that day).

Before I leave you, I want to share four more "wow" takeaways from the book. And then seriously. Buy it. Read it. Love it.

Ok, here we go:

1) Have you heard of the concept of inattentional blindness? I just watched a DNews YouTube video on this so it was funny to stumble upon it in the book, but it's essentially the concept that we see what we look for and miss the rest. That said, when our attention is drawn to what we missed, we can easily spot it. How does this translate into happiness? If you're consistently focused on looking for the negatives or spotting problems, you're going to find them, even if there are also a lot of great things in the midst. But if you shift your focus to consciously search for good things, you'll start to see those too.

2) Our brain uses invented "counterfacts" to help us evaluate and make sense of scenarios. And since we are making these up, we can consciously choose to evaluate a situation through a positive lens. The example Shawn uses is this: imagine you are one of 50 people in a bank, the bank gets robbed and you are shot in the arm, but everyone else is unharmed. Do you feel lucky or unlucky? Some people responded saying, "What's lucky about being shot?" or "Why was I shot instead of one of the other 49 people?" Others said, "I'm so fortunate I was shot in the arm and not somewhere lethal," or "Thank goodness I was the only one that was hurt, the damage could have been so much worse!" It's all in your perspective!

3) ANYONE can achieve greater happiness in any area of their life...if they start small. Sure, if someone walked in today and told you they could wave a magic wand and make all your troubles go away you wouldn't believe them (and rightly so). But what if someone walked in and asked you to fix this one, tiny problem that was simple and within reach. "Sure," you'd say, "that I can manage." If you break up a task and focus on tiny, incremental changes, small successes will start to add up to big wins over time.

4) I think this quote is my favorite from the entire book: "When we encounter an unexpected challenge or threat, the only way to save ourselves is to hold on tight to the people around us and not let go." Social support systems -- whether they're friends, colleagues, family or spouses -- are integral to us succeeding. Even Thomas Edison, the single man credited with inventing the light bulb, worked with a team of more than 30 assistants! We are not designed to go at this life alone, so hold on to those friendships and loved ones, ESPECIALLY when the going gets tough.

One more -- a bonus! Don't forget, a smile is (scientifically!) contagious, so do it as frequently as you can in the presence of others. You'll make yourself happier AND you'll spread happiness in the process.

With that, go forth and find your happiness. I believe in you and your potential (and Shawn and science do too).

Have you read The Happiness Advantage? If so, what was your favorite principle and/or how has it changed your life? I look forward to hearing your thoughts in the comments below.


Gabrielle "Gabby" Bill is a career coach and consultant who believes everyone should be working in a job that leaves them feeling fulfilled. She coaches groups and individuals through a reflection process, uncovering often hidden motivations, values, goals and skills as they relate to their career. These reflections are then parlayed into concrete action plans to guide clients through the process of finding, creating and landing their dream jobs. You can learn more about her services by visiting

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