Posts Tagged ‘The Happiness Advantage’

5 simple daily acts will improve your nonprofit success

Last night I relived the enthusiasm I felt after reading a book a few years ago because I stumbled upon the author’s TED Talk. The author is Shawn Achor and his book is The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. I enjoyed hearing Achor talk about each of the principles so much that I couldn’t help but get up this morning and write about it. The Happiness Advantage is based on a universally helpful topic that is relevant to all of us in work and life.

The premise? The success formula is broken. Achor says we falsely believe if we attain success then we’ll be happy. In reality, the inverse is true. If we’re happy when we set out to achieve our goals, we’ll be wildly more successful.

Happiness becomes a formula for fundraising success

His logic couldn’t have been truer than when I held one of my earliest positions as a nonprofit professional. I was directing a telephone alumni outreach program with an ambitious fundraising goal for one of my university clients. All you need to know about this university is it was located in the Pacific Northwest where there are a lot of overcast, rainy days. This weather makes for a moody staff and moldy office windows.

Every night before the shift started, my student callers would walk in sullenly as I mentally questioned their readiness to motivate others to give on the phone. In my naiveté, I thought I could just inspire this group of callers to reach our fundraising goal by breaking it down for them and showing it was possible.  Then we could all bask in the glory of our hard work and success.

If only Shawn Achor had written his book much earlier. Something told me all my kick-off speeches at the beginning of each shift about reaching the goal weren’t getting us anywhere. That’s when I changed my approach.  I realized I didn’t need to show them the carrot; I needed them to feel like the delighted rabbit that has just eaten many carrots. If I could get my callers in a happy state of mind, then this stretch goal would be in our reach.

Then the fun began. We played games, had contests and read jokes during down times. I even began reading excerpts of The Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale at the beginning of each shift. By the time I was done reading a passage, the room was humming.

The transformation was remarkable. Students were happy. Pledges were rolling in. The client was so surprised when she came onto the calling floor after our transformation that, during her next visit she brought the university president with her. Back then, I didn’t know it was “the happiness advantage” at work, but upon reflection, I think Achor would call this a prime example.

Seven principles and five simple daily acts:

Achor has seven principles that help fuel happiness in work and life, which he explores in-depth within his book. In this TED Talk, he shares a simple daily method–five small changes that ripple outward to create lasting positive change:

Three Gratitudes: “Write down three new things for which you’re grateful over 21 days in a row. Your brain starts to retain a pattern that scans for the positive in your life,” explains Achor.

Journaling: If you journal about one positive experience each day, it allows your brain to relive it, thereby extending the positive emotions from the first time.

Exercise: “Physical exercise teaches your brain that behavior matters,” asserts Achor.

Meditation: “Meditation allows your brain to overcome the cultural ADHD we’ve created by doing multiple tasks at once,” says Achor. Meditation allows our brains to focus on the task at hand.

Random or Conscious Acts of Kindness: Achor suggests opening up your inbox and writing one positive email to another, praising him for something positive or thanking someone in your social support network.

Achor closes his talk by explaining if we simply perform these five tasks, we can train our brains–just like we train our bodies physically—to create ripples of positivity and real, positive change in our work and life.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out: How to Reignite Your Team’s Passion, Creativity and Productivity

Nine Minutes on Monday: The Quick and Easy Way to Go from Manager to Leader

Image credit: TED Talks,




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Create happiness in your organization through failure, change and culture

Meet with funders, manage staff, create strong, connected relationships with board members and now you want me to embrace happiness at work? Yes, because we have it backwards. According to Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology that Fuel Success and Performance at Work, happiness is the precursor to success and essential to productivity.

This is contrary to conventional thinking, but Achor’s extensive research has proven it to be true under no uncertain terms. It is too difficult for unhappy employees to find motivation within themselves that doesn’t exist. So, who has greater potential for the happiness advantage than the nonprofit sector? We are under-resourced and overextended yet have the constant presence of a higher calling from which we can draw happiness.

Developing happiness at work

The CausePlanet team invited me to weigh in on the Page to Practicebook summary of Achor’s book, which gives some compelling rationale and practices for developing the ability to be happy. The author provides data supporting ways individuals can acquire happiness at work. Individuals taking on these habits is part of the equation, while the other part involves workplaces creating happiness practices. As Shawn Achor suggests, organizations have a role to play, especially human resource departments and managers.

Since the early 1990s research and writing on positive psychology has emerged. The idea behind this theory is that like leadership, happiness can be developed. Nonprofit organizations, even as overtaxed as the industry is, can implement approaches that help develop organizational happiness.

Learning from failures and risk taking

One of the practices suggested by Achor is to learn from failures. Human resource practices that encourage risk taking are key to not only endorsing failures, but also reinforcing good things can come from them. In one nonprofit organization, clients served were also those who received government funding. One day a compassionate receptionist suggested maybe some clients could afford to pay some amount, and the organization should strive to increase the client base. There was hesitation among the board and senior leadership that perhaps there weren’t enough staff and other resources to accommodate this idea, but a pilot plan was implemented and now the organization is funded with private pay clients who contribute 30% of the revenue generated. See an excellent related article featuring Jason Saul on tapping often undiscovered donors called “Point of Impact” by Paul Lagasse in Advancing Philanthropy. Also see the Page to Practicebook summary of Saul’s book The End of Fundraising: Raise More Money by Selling your Impact. Organizations that have some methods to encourage ideas and processes for implementing those ideas support the movement toward happiness by giving employees the chance to create and strive.

Change management

Change management is another area human resources can tap to create an environment of happiness. Change management involves creating communication systems that explain the reasons for change as well as recognizing change affects employees in very different ways. Employee sessions to discuss the change and the expected benefits of change can help staff feel more in control of their tasks. Achor suggests creative recognition approaches are part of the happiness culture. One nonprofit organization built in milestones on a large technology conversion. Those milestones meant taking the time to stop and communicate where in the conversion process they were and to give recognition to the staff member who had adapted the new technology in the most creative way.


Human resources is usually the gatekeeper of culture. Creating culture that encourages happiness practices can be found in the many nonprofits that are actively supporting wellness programs. One nonprofit committed to a Wednesday walk that invited everyone to walk, rain or shine, a couple of miles at lunch. Over the last several years, the walk has become a tradition among staff and a casual forum for bouncing ideas off colleagues or talking about issues outside the confines of the work walls. Another organization has a certified yoga teacher on staff. That staff member leads her coworkers in twice-weekly yoga classes.

Shawn Achor suggests we don’t become happy when we are successful, but happiness is the step toward success. Likewise, none of these suggested human resource activities are end goals: they’re just stops along the way to celebrate our work and the contributions those in the sector make each day.

See also:

Fired Up or Burned Out

Nonprofit Organizational Culture Guide

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Success: A breeding ground for complacency?

This piece first appeared on the blog, Great Leadership.

“Success is a lousy teacher. It makes smart people think they can’t lose.”

Bill Gates said that, and he’s exactly right. More often than not, great accomplishments cause individuals and organizations to become comfortable with their way of doing things. Businesses turn static. Workers turn their focus inward. Even the most dynamic of organizations can turn complacent, thinking that what they are doing is right, that there is no need to change, regardless of what’s happening outside.

Here’s one example: This summer, the Washington Post asked me to comment on the debt ceiling debate. At the time, congressmen were busy deflecting blame for the dire economic circumstances gripping the country. Negotiations were gridlocked. A deal to stave off economic calamity seemed out of reach. I wrote that Washington suffered from a “complacency cancer,” that after 250 years as the nerve center of the most prosperous, innovative, militarily and economically advanced nation in modern history, success had gone to our political leaders’ heads. They were resting on their laurels, refusing to change, confident that the old way of doing business would suffice. The same behavior was on display just a few weeks ago, as the congressional “super committee” failed to reach a deficit-reduction deal.

The complacency cancer plagues the private sector as well. I recently read about a study that found successful companies to be far less likely than their weaker counterparts to pursue large-scale change. My own research over more than three decades has shown the same results: despite being better prepared to take bold action, companies with a high level of achievement tend to feel content with the status quo. They sit tight. They focus on themselves. And they ignore the rapidly changing world around them, even in the face of cold, hard facts that clearly show the need to move in a new direction.

It’s plain to see how foolish this thinking is, but no one is immune—not you, not I, not even the most intelligent, experienced leaders. Yet, in today’s constantly changing world, complacency is a recipe for disaster. As a leader, you must do everything in their power to identify it and root it out.

Here are some questions you can ask to determine whether complacency has set in among your employees:

Are team conversations inwardly focused, and not about new markets, emerging technologies or potential competitors?

Are past failures discussed only to stall new initiatives, rather than as learning experiences?

Do important meetings end with no decisions about what needs to happen immediately?

Do workers regularly blame others for problems, as opposed to taking responsibility and changing behavior?

Are highly selective facts used to shoot down data that suggests there is a major challenge or opportunity knocking at the door?

If the answer to most of these questions is “yes,” then complacency has taken root. Before it continues to spread, you must take action to instill a sense of urgency in your employees.

Determine what challenges and opportunities are out there. Discuss them with other senior leaders so those at the top have real clarity about where the organization is headed. Then, communicate that opportunity to your workers, keeping each of the following tips in mind:

Appeal to the head and the heart. Sales figures and spreadsheets can help people start thinking differently, but they’re not going to convince them to change their behavior and take the kind of action needed to move an organization in a new direction. That takes an appeal to the heart. Make a rational case, but do it in a compelling way to win over hearts and minds.

Bring the outside in. If inward focus is the problem, attention to outward reality is the answer. Share outside perspectives. Shed light on troubling data. Listen to customer-facing employees. Each of these tools can be persuasive in helping people see that the outside world is changing—and so, too, must their organization.

Behave with true urgency. Lead by example. If you’re expecting your employees to change, you must change first. Demonstrate your own sense of urgency—in meetings, in emails, during speeches and in one-on-one interactions—and never let up.

Find opportunity in crises. Always look for the upside possibilities. Crises are threats, to be sure. But destabilizing experiences, if navigated carefully and harnessed effectively, can be powerful drivers of change.

Deal with the naysayers. There will always be skeptics. But then there are people who, for whatever reason, simply do not want change. These people, especially if powerful, can be dangerous. The key is to confront them head-on. Do not try to co-opt them or ignore them. It won’t work. Instead, distract them by sending them on special assignments, expose the fallacies in their behavior for all to see, or, if all else fails, push them out of the organization. That bitter pill is sometimes necessary to fight the complacency cancer.

As urgency takes hold, complacency vanishes. Now, your organization is on the path to true success: able to adapt, to change, and to continually seize big opportunities.

See also:

A Sense of Urgency

Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work


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How happy are your employees?

How happy are your employees? The answer can make a difference in your bottom line. Really. While this revelation isn’t necessarily a shocker, the reality is that knowing your employees’ happiness is linked to organizational success isn’t enough to make the achievement happen, according to Happiness Advantage author, Shawn Achor. In fact, it’s critical that you embrace some very specific strategies to create a positive mindset in your team. The results are astounding and based on groundbreaking research within the last 10 years in positive psychology.

For those of you who read the Power of Positive Thinking by Norman Vincent Peale back in the dark ages, you might be thinking this is a fresh spin on an old idea. Put away your Doubting Thomas perceptions and prepare to be dazzled by what the field of positive psychology has confirmed. “Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement—giving us the competitive edge” that Achor calls “the Happiness Advantage.” Achor further states that “waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive.” The following is an excerpt from our Page to Practice interview with Achor as well as a glimpse of one of his Happiness Advantage strategies:

CausePlanet: You make an important distinction between understanding that happiness drives success and the principles that form positive behaviors. In other words, “information is not transformation” as you say. Can you explain this quotation for our readers?

Achor: I heard a sleep researcher once who said if you sleep 8-9 hours a night, you age slower. I asked how long he slept, and he said he is a sleep researcher so he stays awake all night watching people sleep. We often know what we can do to become happier–none of that information is new. But doing it is another thing. Common sense is not common action. The reason is it takes activation energy to get over the inertia of our current habits. But once we do, then we can start making positive habits that literally change the brain.

CausePlanet: What is the most common mistake that leaders make when trying to apply your principles in the workplace?

Achor: They think happiness means putting on rose-colored glasses, not seeing problems, thinking our teams are perfect, and that there is nothing wrong with the world. That is irrational optimism. What we are searching for is “rational optimism,” which begins not with a Pollyannaish view of the world, but with as realistic an assessment of the world as possible, while retaining an optimistic belief that our behavior and mindset will help change the world to a better place. Happiness is NOT the belief that we do not need to change. That is being complacent. Happiness is the belief that we CAN change.

Principle #7: Social Investment – Why Social Support Is Your Single Greatest Asset

When we’re under pressure to succeed, some of us turn inward, turn off the cell and hunker down. Two things happen at this point—we either fail to finish the project or we push through and cross the finish line only to be rewarded with another deadline. Either way, our tank is empty. Achor says the most successful people take the exact opposite approach. Rather than turn inward, they actually hold tighter to their social support and invest rather than divest. “They know that their social relationships are the single greatest investment they can make in the Happiness Advantage.” In fact, a 70-year study of men at Harvard found that the single most important factor in happiness, career achievement, occupational success and income was social bonds. Similar studies, too many to list, came to the same conclusions.

So how do we invest in high performance through social support?

We don’t have to look very far in the professional arena for examples, and positive psychologists say that connections don’t have to be deeply rooted to be beneficial. For example, IBM did an internal study of their employees’ social connections and found that every email contact was worth an additional $948 in revenue. They now are piloting a program in Massachusetts to facilitate the introductions of employees who don’t yet know one another. Google keeps their company cafeterias open beyond office hours, making it easier for employees to dine together as much as possible, and their employees are encouraged to visit their children throughout the day at the on-site daycare center. Companies like Southwest Airlines and The Limited have set up funds for employees who have medical or financial emergencies, whereby colleagues can literally make social investments and donate to the funds, further connecting employees to each others’ livelihoods.

Not all social investment programs have to be large or formalized. Simply facilitating conversation is important, such as one company that after realizing its employees liked chatting in the stairwells, installed coffee machines there. However, coercing employees into awkward icebreakers and sharing personal information creates mistrust. Another dynamic that’s important in the social support network is the vertical relationship between employee and manager. The bond between employee and manger is a predictor for productivity and retainability in a position.

Watch Shawn Achor describe the Happiness Advantage or learn more about other titles we recommend by following our blog, Twitter and Facebook.

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