Is Happiness Really That Complicated?

What is happiness and joy? Are these actual concepts we can truly understand, and if so what would be the importance of understanding them? I’ve often compartmentalized these concepts, and wondered if truly understanding them is worth spending mental energy on. After all these are personal emotions that only impact our own person right, or maybe not?

I was at a conference several years ago. I had to step outside for a brief moment to take a phone call and on my way back inside I crossed by someone sitting just outside the conference door on a bench, seemingly staring into space. They were literally right by the door so it felt awkward not to say something.

On the last day of the conference this same person walked on stage as the keynote speaker. As part of their keynote they mentioned our interaction, and said thank you for stopping to chat. They then proceeded to describe how they had just received some terrible news and were sitting outside the conference in shock.

I haven’t seen this person before or after this conference. I don’t even remember what we talked about. But somehow the brief interaction was impactful to them.

I had mostly forgotten about this moment until I was reading some recent research.

According to research by Shawn Achor, a research psychologist at Harvard, and author of the book The Happiness Advantage, we directly or indirectly impact the mood of 1,000 people every single day. He specifically talks about how contagious someone’s mood really is, and apparently it’s way more contagious than we realize.

Have you ever seen the laughing Coke commercial? If not, just Google “Happiness starts with a smile Coke commercial” it kind of makes you smile just watching it. It makes sense that someone’s mood, laugher, and charisma could have a domino effect. Achor’s claims this same domino effect occurs with negative emotions as well, which also makes sense.

Even more, Achor’s research points out that our mood impacts far more than we realize. It has not only a significant impact on our emotions and happniness, but also our biological age and even our intelligence. I can’t go into all the case studies mentioned in the book but I’ll reference two of my favorite.

The first is about a somewhat famous study done with London cab drivers. Up until this study science had conclusively believed it was impossible to change the makeup of your brain, especially into adulthood. However, a strange trend was forming with London cab drivers. They all seemed to have an enlarged spatial cortex and brain plasticity that couldn’t be explained. As it turns out the intense training and testing that cab drivers had to endure for the complex London streets actually changed their brain chemistry.

In another similar study, a group of 8 men in their 70s, was asked to spend several days in a retreat where everything was recreated to make them think they were 20 years younger. There were no mirrors and only portraits and newspaper articles from their lives 20 years prior. At the end of the study the participants started showing physical signs of looking significantly younger.

The primary theme of this book is we don’t know what our mind, our brain, is truly capable of. There are countless studies that show men and women accomplishing tasks that were previously thought to be outside the realm of human possibility. So maybe the question to ask is what do we want to accomplish. What would we try to accomplish if we didn’t have pre-conceived notions that something was outside our reach.

How would we live our lives if we knew that everyday both our mood and the small decisions we made to be joyful impacted the lives of 1,000 other people?

Who should read the Happiness Advantage? This book is for anyone who wants to read about inspiring well-researched psychology. It is also for anyone who wants to dive a bit deeper into the science behind joy and happiness. It’s a fascinating book!

About Author

Brent is an expert in marketing and creating engaging digital content. He loves writing, reading, podcasting, and learning. In his spare time he enjoys traveling, serving in his Church, and photography. He is an aspiring sky diver who dislikes jumping out of planes. He is a tiny-house enthusiast, who gets claustrophobic. He values growth, leadership, and kind people.

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