The Happiness Advantage: Summary & Review

the happiness advantage

In The Happiness Advantage author Shawn Achor says that happiness is not the consequence of success, but more like the cause of success.

Bullet Summary

  • Don’t wait to be successful to be happy: be happy to be successful
  • Shawn says that happiness is the joy of striving after our potential
  • We can raise our baseline level of happiness

Full Summary

About the Author: Shawn Achor is an American author and entrepreneur, and also famous for his advocacy of positive psychology.
Achor arrived at psychology with a slightly uncommon path. He received his master of arts in Christian and Buddhist Ethics, then was a teaching assistant to Tal Ben-Shahar’s popular “Happiness” course. And from then on, he deepened his passion and expertise in the topic of happiness and mental well-being.

Be Happy to Be Successful

Most people chase money and success to be happy.

But these people, have it backward.

Shawn Achor says that decades of research prove the opposite is true: happiness leads to success much more reliably than success leads to happiness.

It’s best to be happy and let success and money derive from your positive states.
How can that be?
That’s the case because happiness and positive states of mind are powerful performance boosters. They give us more motivation and physical and emotional health and they make us more energetic and creative. And that translates into success.

To quote the author (I edit for brevity):

Our brains are hardwired to perform at their when they are positive.

So please don’t wait for tomorrow’s success to be happy, but start right now. You will be happier today and you will increase your chances of success.

Happiness Makes Us Healthy

Happiness is often not the result, but the cause of good health.

Tests show that happy individuals are better off at fighting cold viruses. They have fewer symptoms and actually have fewer viruses in their bodies.
It seems like the happier you are, the stronger your immune system.

My Note: Correlation is not causation
do be happier. But correlation is causation. What if happier people were happier because they were healthier and stronger?

Another study linking happiness levels and the lifespan of a group of nuns showed that there was a seven-year difference between the happiest and saddest nuns.

And another study even showed that happiness predicts lower blood pressure and heart rate.

Bottom line: a happy life is a healthy life.

Happy People Outperform

Turns out, a smile on your face makes you perform better.

A study asked children to do a series of tasks.
But they asked one group to think about something that makes them happy before starting. Result? The children primed for happiness completed the tasks both more quickly and with fewer mistakes.

Similar studies reached similar conclusions with adults. Even when mimicking a business deal negotiation.

Bottom line: feeling bad puts you at a massive disadvantage. Being happy raises your level of performance.

Happiness Is A Stress Antidote

People who watch videos that induce joy recover from stress more quickly than those who watch neutral or sad videos.

Psychology refers to this property as the “undoing effect“, such as the ability to recover and erase previous unhealthy or negative states.

We Can Become Happier

Here’s the great news:

studies confirm that we can permanently raise our happiness baseline and adopt a more positive mindset.

While scientists once believed happiness was mostly hereditary, today we know that we have far greater control over our emotional states and well-being than previously thought.

We will always have up and down, but we can raise our baseline so that we can enjoy higher highs and higher lows.

Again, yes you can become happier. The happiness advantage is available to everyone who puts in the effort.

How to Be Happier

And now the juicy part. How to exercise our happiness advantage and become happier?

#1. Meditate

Monks who spend years of meditating grow their prefrontal cortex, which is the part of the brain most responsible for the feeling of happiness.

But don’t worry, you probably can start getting good benefits much quicker. Research shows that regular meditation can rewire our brains for a permanently higher level of happiness, lower stress, and even improved immune functions.

You can start with just ten or fifteen minutes a day.

#2. Find Something to Look Forward To

Anticipating future rewards lights up the same pleasure centers that the actual reward will.
Even just thinking of watching our favorite movie can raise our endorphin levels by 27%.

#3. Perform Acts of Kindness

Acts of altruism decrease stress and increase our mental health.

#4. Create an Uplifting Environment

Our environment and surroundings can have a huge impact on our mindsets and well-being.

Make your environment a positive and uplifting one, take a break during the day, and spend 20 minutes outside in good weather.

And watch less TV.
Studies show that watching less TV can make us happier. And the correlation is even higher with violent media -and TV is filled with negative and violent reports-.

# 5. Exercise

Physical activity has a strong impact on our mood.

Exercise releases endorphins, but it’s not just a short-term fix.
A study showed that 45 minutes of activity three times per week increased the mental health of depressed patients for more than six months.

Indeed a study shows that movement is more effective in curing depression than anti-depressant medications.

# 6. Spend Money (On Experiences)

Who said money can’t buy you happiness?
It can!
Just make sure you don’t spend on “stuff” but on experiences. Here are six smart ways of spending your money to maximize happiness:

  • Experiences over stuff
  • Many small pleasures instead of a big one
  • Spend money on others 
  • Buy now, enjoy later: buy a treat and eat after your workout and book your holidays way in advance. Delaying consumption creates positive anticipation
  • Spend money to buy time: for example, pay to clean your house
  • Buy happiness-boosting activities: invest in yourself, get a personal trainer, join a class, book a trip, go to the movies, eat at your favorite pizza place, etc.

# 7. Exercise a Signature Strength

Doing things you are good at and leveraging your strengths and skills will also make you feel happier.

Here are a few ways of using a signature strength:

  • When you’re in need of a happiness shot, revisit a talent of yours and use it.
  • Exercise a trait, value, or strength of character that is part of who you are: even better than a skill
  • Use your signature strengths daily: the more you use it, the happier you become.”

Focus on Positives

Our brain cannot hold two feelings and thoughts at the same time.
This means that if we focus and think about the positives in our lives we won’t have space to think about negatives. Even if all that’s happening around us is negative.

Shawn says that we need at least 3 opportunities for each threat we perceive. Above 6:1 is too much and we might have too Rosy an outlook. Below 3 we might focus on threats too much and pick up more on the negatives of life.

This is an old concept that already Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations stressed two thousand years ago. However, that doesn’t make it any less effective.

The Happiness Advantage makes the point that we can train our brains to focus on the positives.
Here is an idea on how to do just that: every evening write down three positive things that happened to you during the day.

Focus on Growth After a Failure

After a failure or negative event, we can usually follow three different paths:

  1. No change, and you end where you started
  2. More negativity
  3. Use adversity and failure to become even stronger

Also, read:

How to Build Habits

It takes little energy to keep a body in motion.
But it takes lots of energy to get started.

It’s not much different than forming habits and the respective neural pathways in our brains.

The key to keeping our habits going, says Shawn, is to make it as easy as possible to repeat the habit every single day.

And the inverse is true for habits you want to stop: make it hard to keep them up!
Move into a flat with smoke detectors where you can’t smoke inside and it’s freezing cold outside.

Internal Locus of Control

In a nutshell, an internal locus of control says that we are in control of our own life.

To flesh it out a bit more, a huge driver of happiness, confidence, and emotional well-being is the belief that we are in control of our life and that we are the master of our own fate and life.

People with an internal locus of control are also more productive at work and in life.
Psychologists say that these gains in productivity, happiness, and health have less to do with how much control we actually have and more with how much control we think we have.

How to Regain Control

When we’re very stressed and can’t keep up it can be difficult to feel like we’re on top of things.

What to do then?

Put your negative emotions in writing. Brain scans show that putting your negative emotions into words diminishes their power.
Then focus on micro-tasks you can execute. Doing the first step will get you going and accomplishing small tasks will give you confidence.

Lesson learned: acquire and develop a belief that you are in control of your life and only focus on the things you can control. And worry not about the ones you can’t control.

Get Social Investment

The more social help and support you get, the happier you are.
Try to build a solid network of people around you.

The Happiness Advantage TED Talk

Real-Life Applications

There is really a ton of incredible life-improving wisdom here.
Here are a few gigantic takeaways:

  • Don’t consider happiness just mood: it’s your new work and life ethic
  • Force yourself to scan the world for positives and write them down every day
  • Reframe failures as opportunities for growth
  • Don’t let limiting beliefs shackle you
  • Believe that your action directly affect outcomes and you can reach the goals you want (internal locus of control)

the happiness advantage


  • Marketing-Talk

The first part of the book is to talk about how great the book will be.
A bit of Pre-Suasion is good, but I felt it was too long.

And it just sounded silly at times, like the expression “cutting-edge science”. As a guy who’s been working in tech a bit, we always had to laugh at the buzzword “cutting-edge technology”. Until we started seeing a new level of cutting-edge tech: the “bleeding edge tech”. Now those guys took it to the next level of cutting-edge frontier :).

In my opinion, that type of language in a book that wants to be grounded in science is out of place.
Not because science must be “serious”, but because “serious-sounding” increases authority, and people are more likely to be swayed by sources that they perceive as being authoritative.

  • Could Have Been Briefer

It was longish and drawn out.

  • Seven Principles Not Best Layout

I didn’t think the layout of the seven principles was very clear. I believe The Happiness Advantage could have enjoyed a better structure.


  • All-Around Great Wisdom

A lot of deep wisdom here, leveraging solid research.

  • Life-Changing Advice

I have read several positive psychology books. But this is the best one I have read so far.


Shawn is not a psychologist himself, which lowered a bit my expectations before I started reading “The Happiness Advantage“.

But I had to change my mind: this is one of the best books on positive psychology, including the ones written by actual psychologists.

What makes “The Happiness Advantage” stand out is the extreme focus on practical advice.

This book doesn’t only help to make the readers happy, but also the people around the readers happier.
Because remember: with your happiness, you have the power to make others feel happier too.

Check the best psychology books or get the book on Amazon

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