Living the Research

Learn how others are living the Happiness Advantage in these featured stories from our Happiness Archive.

“I’ve put into practice what I’ve learned.”

Dear Shawn Achor,
I am a doctoral student at Texas A&M University in College Station, TX. About a year ago, I watched your TED Talk – The happy secret to better work – and decided to put into practice the five activities you recommended for lasting positive change: (1) write down three gratitudes, (2) journal a positive experience, (3) do physical exercise, (4) meditate, and (5) do a random act of kindness. I must confess that I was a little skeptical about your recommendations. However, I am glad I felt that way because that skeptical feeling was what drove me to do those activities for 21 days, as you suggested. The 21 days have turned into more than 365 days since I still do them.

As you suggested in your TED Talk, a random act of kindness can simply be a thank you email to someone. With that in mind, my random act of kindness today is to share my story here and thank you for all your dedication to your work and research, which have positively impacted a lot of people.

Your work certainly has impacted my life. For example, after practicing those activities mentioned above for 21 days, not only [did] I became a more positive person, but my work performance, mood, and confidence improved, which all made me a happier person.

Your books inspired me to learn more about happiness and how our brain works, and to put into practice everything that I learned. I did all that in the midst of a very busy academic semester (Fall 2015) at Texas A&M University. Nevertheless, all that new knowledge just improved my performance at graduate school and made me handle my academic duties and tasks more easily as I felt a lot happier than before. At the end of that semester, I decided to write a book to share the journey that led me to lasting happiness. Since your work was part of that journey, you will definitely be cited in the book.

Nowadays, whenever I have an opportunity, I share what I have learned from your work with other people, including my undergraduate students.
Thank you again for your hard work to create more positive minds in the world!
Angelica Ribeiro

“Life has become so much more enjoyable.”

“I recently purchased and read The Happiness Advantage after seeing Shawn’s TED talk. As I read the book, I noticed an uptick in the number of positive people coming into my life. Interactions with these people lift my spirits and consistently put a smile on my face. Without prompting, I receive support and gratitude from friends, colleagues and near total strangers. Even though I’m in a tough place financially, life has become so much more enjoyable . As an example, there is a young woman named Kelly who works at my local Panera Bread in Hingham, MA. This young girl is always smiling; the grin on her face never stops! When I asked her about what drives her positive outlook, she didn’t miss a beat. “Every day is awesome! I never have a bad day!” And you can tell she is genuine in her enthusiasm. I’m so grateful to Shawn for writing this book. My dad was one of the most negative individuals on this planet and he died a very unhappy man. I don’t intend to follow his path. My outlook, my vocabulary, and just the little everyday ‘moments’ that we take for granted feel so different and special. It’s no accident. Feeling and acting in a positive manner can change lives. It’s happening for me and it can happen for you.

“Revolutionized my teaching.”

Last year, the high school adjustment counselor with whom I teach at Westborough High School in Westborough, MA introduced me to something that has revolutionized my teaching. Something that has had a profound effect on the students I teach in our senior seminar Psychology in Literature. This something was: Positive Psychology Researcher Shawn Achor’s TED Talk: The Happy Secret to Better Work. In his TED Talk, Achor shares applicable strategies to increase positive psychology in the workplace and therefore better work. I had been looking for something to create some positivity in the curriculum because the books that we were reading were very depressing ([e.g.] The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath). My colleague Ceil Parteleno and I decided to conduct our own research and incorporate these techniques with my students. The results have been overwhelmingly–well–positive. So here’s how Achor’s happy secret is playing out in my classroom…
We first showed the TED Talk to my students. Achor has a great approach to his TED Talk: sharing a childhood story in such a humorous way that my teenagers were laughing aloud (and as we know getting teenagers to laugh before 10am in school is a feat in itself!). Then by drawing on his own personal experience at Harvard University, my seniors actively listened as they themselves are in the college application process. Achor then shares the mind-blowing research: what if we change our mindset to feel happy now instead of assuming we will be happy after we accomplish whatever our goal is. And lastly, he provides research-based techniques to enable us to be happy now. These five tools are: 3 gratitudes per day, meditation, exercise, random act of kindness, and journaling.
So last year, Ceil and I decided for 21 days to ask our students to keep a gratitude journal each day at the beginning of class. We took time weekly during class to take a 10 minute walk (exercise) and alternately meditate. And we also took a class period for students to commit a random act of kindness by writing a gratitude note to a loved one. At the end of the 21 days, students reported feeling better, less stress, and more productive.
So this school year I decided to incorporate and expand the positive psychology strategies mentioned in Achor’s TED Talk. After showing Achor’s TED Talk, I passed out gratitude journals that I had purchased (my own random act of kindness towards my students). For 21 days, my students and I kept gratitude journals. We started off with three a day and then students and I would throw out a random number to challenge ourselves. At the end of the 21 days, I had students vote on: yes, continue daily gratitude journals or no, end the journals. The class voted yes, continue daily gratitude journals.
Carly Flahive, senior, comments, “Positive psychology has definitely helped me put a different mood on the day. It makes us think about the good aspects of our days, instead of always looking at the negative. Through simply coloring, listening to some upbeat music, writing in words what we are grateful for, it all helps us see how great we have it. With the gratitude journals, we actually think about what we appreciate and put time into realizing positives. By using positive psychology, I find myself more relaxed for the rest of the day and less stressed out.”
I have also included playing a song in the beginning of class while students are coming in and grabbing their gratitude journals. We also have engaged in coloring mandalas occasionally as a warm up activity. It is remarkable to see students transition more smoothly between classes as they take some time to color. From my observations, I have seen an increase in class participation from a variety of students with far more focus and engagement than pre-positive psychology integration. I have seen students’ moods elevated and therefore an increase in willingness to put forth effort and diligence. And lastly, I have seen greater connection among the class and between individual students and me. I have chosen to integrate some of these strategies into my other English classes as well.
Senior David Beliveau also remarks, “Honestly, before I started taking the Psychology in Literature seminar, I had always dreaded going to English class. When we were first introduced to positive psychology, I was a little skeptical, not believing it would help. How wrong was I? Positive Psychology has turned out to be a motivational tool. From the gratitude journals to the music at the beginning of class, it showed me how much I have going for me. It pushed me to do more than just be in the class, it pushed me to participate more and just improved my overall mood. Who knew coloring could really stimulate the brain? Coloring opened up my imagination and actually helped me stay involved. Positive Psychology really has pushed me to do better and stay involved in school.”
My vision is to continue to incorporate positive psychology into my classes as the students. As Achor shared in his recent article “The Busier You Are, the More You Need Mindfulness” (Achor and Michelle Gielan. Harvard Business Review. December 2015), “If you want to be a forward-thinking professional, stop thinking about the future for a moment. If you want to do more today, sit down and practice being aware of your breath and the fact that you have access to meaning right now.” So if I have a student who questions how positive psychology will help him/her with his/her future, I share this statement by plugging in: “if you want to be a forward-thinking student…” And ideally, Ceil and I hope to spread positive psychology within our faculty one gratitude at a time.
-Kathleen Stoker, Westborough High School English/Journalism teacher

“Using my power and freedom of choice.”

“Early in 2010, 2 years after my son was born, I was diagnosed with a medium-severe case of clinical depression. For about 2 years, conventional therapy in combination with medication helped me get better. Then my husband and I split up, which was traumatic at the time (I didn’t see it coming), but it turned out to be a very liberating experience. I was pushed into making a choice between living a life that is safe, convenient, but not the one I want, and finally using my power and freedom of choice to do what’s truly good for me. I went off medication, took on a second job, and explored, read and listened everything in terms of self-improvement and -development I could get my hands on. Today, at the age of 40,I am as fit, healthy and happy as never before in my life. I make sure I stay in balance (I do have the tendency to overanalyze – especially emotions -, and get melancholic) by exercising regularly, having a gratitude and success journal that I write in every night, asking for help wherever and whenever I need it, socializing even when I don’t really feel like going out – I make myself meet people when I feel lonely -, taking care of the relationships with good friends and family in particular, doing the best I can to serve people and put a smile on their faces in my job (I’m a teacher, teaching English in a company, and with almost all of my students I have discussed Shawn Achor’s TED talk and the book The Happiness Advantage :-), and finally I started to work as a volunteer in a home for elderly people.
When I read The Happiness Advantage and learned more about Positive Psychology, it was almost like feeling relief: Here’s finally scientific proof from a renowned institution like Harvard that what I have been doing is not just some new-age look on the bright side feel-good BS, but everyone should know about this! It should be made a school subject on a par with natural sciences and humanities!
I cannot thank you all enough for doing this kind of work, it means the world to me :)”

“So much to be thankful for.”

“Hi. One year ago, Shawn came out and presented to the company I am employed with. I was going through a difficult time personally and his speech really resonated with me. I decided to hold true to citing three thankful things a day for 21 days. Then I thought I would complete a whole month’s worth…then 6 months…the next thing I know, I have compiled 1095 thankful things for an entire year. While this is not a totally transformative experience, it has made me a generally happier and more thankful and positive person. I could not imagine having so much to be thankful for when this started. Just wanted to say thanks, Shawn. Continue the good work.”
-Matt DiNatale

“This video absolutely changed my life.”

“My whole life I have generally been a positive person; however, in my late adolescence a few traumatic events drained me completely of my optimism. I interpreted this feedback as a deathly omen that the real world was a dangerous place that I was far too incompetent for. Feeling completely out of control, I spiraled into a series of unfortunate events which lasted for about two years. One day when I was searching the TED website for a school assignment, I stumbled upon Shawn’s video “the happy secret to better work.” Curious yet still unconvinced by the title alone, I took a chance and watched the video. This video absolutely changed my life. I had heard of positive psychology in some of my course work, but I assumed it was an experimental area of study with a lack of substantiated research. Not only did this video prove me wrong, but it instilled within me the hope that there is actually a strong relationship between happiness and better performance. Thrilled about this newly learned information, I spoke about it to one of my professors. She too was a believer in the concept and thoroughly enjoyed Shawn’s TED Talk. Even better, she owned his book, The Happiness Advantage, which she allowed me to borrow. Not only did this book reinforced my faith in my newly found revelation, but it gave me practical strategies to capitalize on it. I was so grateful for this new information that I was inspired to share it with the masses. I entered an intermural speech tournament at my college and spoke about how a cultivated mindset leads to success. One third of the speech emphasized happiness, in which I directly cited Shawn’s work from his TED talk and from the The Happiness Advantage. Because the information was so powerful, I actually won first place in the tournament. Even more importantly, I had the honor of spreading the word on the significant connection between happiness and success. Thank you Shawn Achor for not only inspiring me, but for inspiring millions of others to be the highest version of themselves!”
-Santa-Inez Victorio