“We become more successful when we are happier and more positive.”
– Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
As I (Jai) write this, we are five days into the longest holiday we've ever taken as a family unit.
Our little foursome, in our tiny Honda Jazz, have driven about a thousand kilometres, stayed in five different houses, and listened to the Frozen soundtrack at least a dozen times over.
When the little ones are asleep though, we've been listening to something a little lighter – "The Happiness Advantage", by Shawn Achor.
We're not finished the book yet (we only get about a chapter in each time the kids fall asleep in synch), but so far the topic has been very fitting, much of which so far can probably be best summarised by Shawn Achor's TED talk on the same subject.
If you don't have the 20 minutes to watch that, I'll give you the TL;DR ('Too Long; Didn't Read') version:
Most of us go through life, constantly convincing ourselves that the next promotion, the next pay-rise, that new car you want, that bigger house you want to buy (even having that extra kid?) will somehow be the thing that makes you happy – but it never does (okay, kids might – to a degree).
Shawn's theory is that focussing first on being happy, and making that your #1 priority, will in-fact help you achieve success in other parts of your life.
We're only just getting to the juicy bits that are supposedly going to teach us how to achieve this, but it seemed worth reflecting on my own experiences so far, and the ways it seems to already be tying in nicely with the previous book I listened to – "Mindset: The New Psychology of Success", by Carol S. Dweck.
Mindset explores the theory that there are two mindsets a person may hold toward any skill or challenge in their life, the growth mindset and the fixed mindset.
The idea is, that someone with a growth mindset understands that they will get better with practice. They believe they are likely to learn more from trying something gutsy and risking failure than they would from doing something safe.
By contrast, someone with a fixed mindset fears judgement of failure too much to ever take that risk. They prefer to stay well within their comfort zone, always careful to have a string of excuses, or other people and things to blame for anything but a perfect execution.
Now, normally, if you'd asked me which type of person I am between 'People who think humans can be split into two types of people' and 'People who don't', I would say I'm somewhere in the middle – because nothing is that simplistic. However, luckily, Carol S. Dweck's theory pans out to have a lot more nuance to it.
She points out that while someone may have a growth mindset in their professional life, they may take a more fixed approach to their love-life, or family life – or even have different approaches to different skills within each of those broad areas.
It's also explained that your mindset can shift and change over time, or even instantly if the right circumstances occur.
This is where I see an anecdotal tie to The Happiness Advantage.
“Happiness is not the belief that we don't need to change; it's the realization that we can.”
– Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage
In general, in many areas of my life, I like to believe I've developed a pretty solid 'growth mindset' approach to the world – at least most of the time, and at least in more recent years.
I'm also a pretty generally 'happy' person. Maybe I don't smile and project happiness everywhere I go, but I like to think I have a pretty optimistic outlook and feel life is pretty good.
I'm also very aware that I can be a quite emotionally driven individual. I have a hard time hiding my opinion about things, or my mood in general, and I've never quite mastered the art of separating the various compartments of my life.
For example, on the rare occasions I've been having a hard time at work, I might be feeling stressed, anxious, or just plain annoyed about something. I have a hard time then, coming home and not bringing an element of that into my interactions with Magda, or even the kids.
Conversely, between myself, my family, and some close friends: it's been a kinda shitty year or so in general. There's been a handful of times I've had some kind of heavy news, personal health problems, or money stress in my life, and have certainly not been at my 100% best, most optimistic self.
In those times, often those compartments overlap again. And, whilst I thought I was doing a pretty good job to just showing up, putting on a strong front and getting shit done – it dawns on me now that those times were often the times where my general lack of happiness actually caused me to revert back to a fixed mindset.
Those are the times I let myself get defensive, or worse, detached. Those are the times I looked for something or someone to blame, rather than owning it, learning from my shortcomings and moving on to do better next time.
I'm lucky though. I have co-workers that feel like family and who put up with my occasional shitness without holding grudges (they must have growth mindsets), and I have family that feel like my life-teammates to help me work through that shit (which makes me happy), so I generally can get back to the positive side with a more optimistic attitude and regain that growth mindset.
Anyhow, as I said, we're not finished the book yet. I'm really hoping it goes into more practical strategies for increasing happiness – apart from telling me to meditate, exercise and sleep more (something tells me the people who write these things never had kids).
But even if it doesn't, the synchronicity of this trip with this amazing family and this sequence of audiobooks, has already illustrated the importance of prioritising time with my family, and their happiness. And just how much positive impact maintaining that may have on the rest of my life.