The Happiness Advantage

June 4, 2013

In Employee Engagement

I am currently reading The Happiness Advantage from Shawn Achor. A must-read if you are interested by the subject of happiness (or not ; ). The author brings a very interesting point. He reminds us that, all our life, we always hear the same thing: work hard, perform at high levels and success will come; and when you’ll get success, then you’ll be happy. Hence, according to common belief, happiness is caused by success. Success brings you happiness without fault.

Yet, hundreds of researches prove exactly… the opposite… People who enjoy success are indeed happy (for the most part), but even if there is a correlation between the 2 factors, the first does not necessary cause the second. According to these researches, it’s quite the opposite: be happy first, then you will be successful!


Researchers analysed the diary from 180 nuns from School Sisters of Notre-Dame, all born before 1917. They monitored every positive emotion through the writings of each sister all through her life. They were trying to determine how much positive thinking at 20 years of age would predict the rest of their lives. Well, it seems that it’s the case! The nuns who wrote the most positive content in their diary lived on average 10 years older. At 85 years-old, 90% of the most positive quarter of Sisters were still alive, against only 34% of the least positive.

Does happiness levels have positive impact on our health! It seems like it!


In another study, participants answered a survey that intended to measure their happiness level. Then, they were injected with the flu virus. You see where I am going with this, don’t you? And yes, a week later, the participants with the highest happiness levels at the beginning fought back the virus much more effectively and suffered objectively and really less from cough, congestion and respiratory channels symptoms.


Negative emotions, like fear, were quite useful for our evolution. Indeed, when we faced a lion, fear produced chemical elements in our body to help us fight or flight. Fear, like all other negative emotions, reduces the specter of our thoughts and actions. Think about the moments when you felt a deep anger. You could only think about it. Your brain focuses only on the situation which provoked your anger. Everything else ceased to exist.

And it’s exactly the opposite with positive emotions. These generate other chemical substances in our body: dopamin and serotonin which not only make us feel good, but also give a boost to our cerebral functions. Positive emotions broaden the scope of our possibilities. They allow us to treat more information per second, make use more creative, allow us to see more solutions, more opportunities.

A recent University of Toronto study brought together 2 groups of participants. Members from the first group were deliberately put in a positive state of mind, while the other in a negative state of mind. Then, they were shown a series of images. The positive group could memorize many more elements from each image than the negative group.


As an entrepreneur, CEO or manager, you may be thinking: that’s great, but what is the impact on my business? It’s quite simple: happy employees are profitable!

A study showed that unhappy employees took around 15 sick days per year more than their happier colleagues. Happy employees are less likely to quit their job, which reduces attrition, which in turn reduces recruitment costs.

But, I think, the main reason that explains why you would always win with a team of happy people is the following: happy people are more creative, find more solutions, see and seize more opportunities than the others. And that, for a business leader, is worth pure gold 🙂 .

If The Happiness Advantage book interests you, here is a little video that summarizes its content:

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