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Industry Literature: The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

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Shawn Achor’s The Happiness Advantage is a deceptively intelligent book, and I say “deceptively”, because when I initially judged the book by its title and then its cover of what looks like half the Koolaid Man’s face, I thought this was going to be another one of those professionally bounded motivational speech transcripts.

So why did I pick it up anyway first of all? I choose books to read based on any random number of different things. I like to browse around at my local Barnes and Noble, so whatever shows up in the Business section is fair game if it catches my eye. This particular book came from a recommendation from the BizBash 20 Books to Read list, which I’ve gotten a number of other titles that I’ve reviewed from also.

Shawn Achor, as I’ve now found out, is a professional academic researcher who spent twelve years at Harvard researching his one passion subject: positive psychology. The research shows through extensively in the writing of The Happiness Advantage. Most business books do have research in the sense of case studies, perhaps anecdotes and stories from the author’s own life, and the occassional references to other works in various subjects the book would touch on. The Happiness Advantage, on the other hand, is literally filled with very scientific explanations of the things Shawn explains about happiness. He talks about research that’s been done in the field of psychology, experiments that his colleagues and himself have conducted, the most pertinent and the most powerful findings that back up any particular subject the book section is on.

The format of the book is also pretty incredible in the sense that about 90% of the book focuses on one section called the Seven Principles. The Seven Principles each paint one aspect of the picture of the overall “Happiness Advantage”. We explore what Happiness is (no it is not the smell of a new car, nor the freedom from fear, nor a billboard on the side of the road that screams with reassurance that whatever you’re doing is ok…) from psychological and biological perspectives, what functions Happiness serves from anthropological and sociological perspectives, and how an individual can create and leverage a positivity to live a better life.

As academic as much of the research has been, this book does rightfully deserve to be found in the Business section of the bookstore. In his time since Harvard, Shawn has been a professional consultant and speaker (and author, duh…) for Fortune 500 companies, helping them with HR and productivity related needs using his expertise on positive psychology. He does also incorporate many of these anecdotes into his writing; we hear his experiences of working with companies from different cultures, and of his observations of the global workforce in 2008, and lots of other stories of individual clients he’s worked with. The Seven Principles can be applied just as much to personal, family, and social life (which, actually, is the 7th Principle), but the book is mainly written through the lens of business productivity. All the potential takeaways from the book are ultimately pitched as that they are essential to the health of a company’s workforce and culture, and that by learning and executing on these findings, a company will achieve greater productivity and benefit the bottom line.

And that’s as it should be.

See you at the next exploration!

Harry

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