Groks Science Show 2011-01-19: Behavioral Happiness

Interview with Shawn Author (author of 'The Happiness Advantage'). Link to podcast page. He is a researcher on positive psychology, talking about work he did at Harvard and various blue chip U.S corporation (Adobe, Morgan Stanley, Google).

The main point he is trying to make is that it is a misconception that humans are at their best when under stress. The interviewee believes (and researched) that actually individuals that are happy and positive outperform the stressed individuals.

Definition of Happiness

"The joy that one feels driving after one's potential. Happiness with a directional sense of purpose."

It is not clear whether they defined that it was the aspect most correlated with happiness found out by empirical study or just the definition they chose to adopt.


Arranging fun activities thorough the day improves performance on neutral or stressed people.

If one only pursue pleasure, then productivity decreases and the individual does not feel happy in the end. The desire for pursuit of our potential arises in that situation, and the individual stops being happy just idling at fun activities.

We encode memory better when in a positive state. It is due to the presence of dopamine.

Connection between positivity and success (from an analysis of many studies): when somebody get their brain to become more positive, they get the following benefits.

Stress narrows down the possibilities seen in the environment, linked to a 'fight or flight' response: focus on the immediate danger.

Social support at work is the greatest predictor of whether someone will stay at their current job (as opposed as to voluntarily switch job).

Social support is the greatest predictor of somebody's happiness and success in a time of challenge (correlation 0.7).

How to Increase Long-Term Happiness

Write down 3 things you are grateful for at the beginning of each day

Do for 21 days in a row. Change the way the brain processes pattern, focuses more on positive things. Apparently the (positive) changes can last for up to 6 months.

Write a one to two sentence e-mail praising or thanking somebody at the beginning of every day

(They were not clear at all what were the measured benefits of this, but implied it raised happiness.)

Write for 5 minutes a day as much detail as possible about a recent positive event in your life

(Again, they were not clear at all what were the measured benefits of this, but implied it raised happiness.)