Happiness Expert Reveals 5 Secrets to Unleashing Your “Big Potential”

They're simpler than you think.

By Raquel Guarino

Happiness. People spend their whole lives working for it, yet many never truly feel fulfilled. Is happiness truly achievable? And if so, what do we need to do to live happy lives (inside and outside of our careers)? Positive psychology researcher and author of the book Big Potential, Shawn Achor, says the answer is a resounding yes. He offered these five “seeds” of advice based on his research.


Surround Yourself with Positive People

According to Achor, our network influences our happiness. While you can’t necessarily change or choose everyone who surrounds you in your life, Achor believes we have a lot more control over our ecosystem than we think. Many of the connections people have aren’t necessarily with people they know; it’s with media sources like television, radio, podcasts, and the internet.

Instead of surrounding yourself with negative sources of media, Achor suggests replacing them with positive ones instead. Instead of looking at inflammatory comments online, unfollow pages meant to incite anger, outrage, and other strong emotions. He also suggests avoiding content that encourages you to hyper compare or compete with others.

In addition, Achor advises people to actively provide social connection rather than waiting on others to offer it. Whether it’s hosting get togethers, bringing muffins to work, or helping coworkers when they need advice, Achor believes being an active source of relationship building is extremely beneficial to yourself and your surrounding community. Based on his studies, Achor says:

“The top quartile of that scale of the people who provide social connection were...40% more likely to receive a promotion over the next two year period of time… When we wait to only receive social connection, we actually miss out on one of the greatest predictors of our happiness and success.”


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Expand Power Out to People Around You

In the search for reaching our potential and being happy, Achor says one of the biggest mistakes people make is believing that it’s solely an individual endeavor. Instead of oversharing on social media, he says it’s important to find a handful of people in real life you can share your authentic emotions with. This will reduce the risk of being hurt by a large network that may not necessarily care about you. It will also strengthen your relationships with those you care about.

Relationships are reciprocal, and it’s just as important to reach out to others as it is to be there for them, too. By deepening our social connection, Achor says we can enhance our ability to create positive changes in our lives.


Enhance the People Around You

When the people around us do better, we inevitably grow too. That’s why it’s so important we spend time encouraging others and praising them for their achievements. When giving praise, though, Achor advises against using comparative measures. By praising someone based on their actions, we give them space to feel happy for themselves regardless of how much others accomplish.

Another suggestion is for you to “praise the base.” Achor says that the people at the top usually get the praise they need, and that it’s important to shift the light to the “base” instead. That means not only supporting the one who achieved something, but all of the people who helped the person get to that point, too.


Defend the System

The opposite of happiness isn’t unhappiness, says Achor. It’s apathy. Most people experience a range of emotions, including sadness, anger, frustration, and loneliness. Instead of resisting those negative feelings, Achor says it’s important to use those emotions to propel you to make positive changes in your own life.

Instead of trying to numb yourself to the bad things happening in the world, Achor believes it’s important to engage in practices that help prepare you for the negative things that will inevitably come your way. One way to tip the scale into a positive direction is to consistently practice gratitude. Another is to avoid negative messages when your mind is at its weakest. According to Achor, that means avoiding social media, email, and the news in the first and last thirty minutes of your day.


Sustain the Gains

Good things happen more often than we remember them. Achor says most people forget around 80-90% of the positive things that have happened to them. That’s why it’s important to memorialize the positive things we experience everyday. By consistently recognizing all the different kinds of positivity we experience on a daily basis, we can stop ourselves from feeling overwhelmed when something negative happens.

It’s especially important for communities to work together to focus on this, reminds Achor. By making gratitude a communal process, people are more likely to feel optimistic and work towards making positive changes. Because deep social connections are the greatest predictor of both health and success, it’s imperative for people to work together towards a more positive future.


Want to hear more from Shawn Achor? Check out the talk about his book Big Potential here.

You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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