The Effects of Happiness on the Brain

By Sarah Peters – February 24, 2021
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Throughout history, particularly the 20th and 21st centuries, there’s been a train of thought that success and achievement make us happier. Now, new research from Harvard shows that actually, it’s been the other way around all along. Happiness is a source of success for us. Happier people become more successful. It is easy to think that happiness cannot be controlled, but actually, we have all the tools in our minds. 

 No matter what your role in life is, you probably believe that you will gain more happiness when you achieve something. For a teenager, it may be getting a weekend job that they think will add to their happiness, for a college student, it may be getting an A on a paper, or winning the season with their sports team. How you approach these goals is actually just as important as achieving them, if not more so.

Author Shawn Achor shared his research in a brilliant and entertaining TEDx talk, explaining how putting brains under the microscope showed that happiness is actually the key to further success. The equation begins with happiness, it doesn’t end with it. Harvard psychology researcher, Achor, also wrote a whole book on the topic, called The Happiness Advantage, and he urges people in business, especially entrepreneurs, to focus on that fact to improve their mindset. 

The fascinating research shows that each time we achieve a goal, our brains change what success means. So, it’s important that we don’t keep happiness on the other side of success, because we may actually be preventing ourselves from achieving success! If you adapt your own happiness levels, despite any challenging circumstances, you will have more chances for success. This was proven through cases in bad economic environments or trying times; every time, the business improved when the happiness levels of the participants were high!

Achor also explained why this happens. When you are happier, your brain actually works better. Maintaining a good level of positivity boosts your creativity and makes you sharper. Optimism was found to be the greatest predictor of entrepreneurial successes, because your brain is open to, and sees more opportunity. Another fascinating statistic that he shared was that only 25% of job success is actually related to IQ, the other 75% is to do with how your brain manages stress, your engagement to others and your behavior.

Some people argue that your genes determine your happiness, and while Achor acknowledges that genes do contribute to your happiness, but you can also overcome your natural tendencies. One of the experiments they carried out is that people writing down three things they were grateful for, daily, over the course of three weeks, actually boosted their own optimism levels and could maintain that for up to six months. So, while happiness will be easier for some people, you can train your brain quite quickly to change your outlook. Businesses can look to Achor's recent Harvard Business Review Magazine cover story, while anyone can simply enjoy his TEDx talk.