I’m a regular reader of the terrific Barking Up the Wrong Tree blog. In a recent post, Eric Barker describes interviewing Shawn Achor – author of The Happiness Advantage – in which he makes a persuasive argument that success doesn’t breed happiness; rather, one of the advantages of being happy is that it tends to breed success.

So what factors lead to happy people and workplaces so that they can succeed and fulfill their aspirations?

Achor’s research has found that while around 25 per cent of job success can be predicted on the basis of individual intelligence and technical skills, the remaining 75 per cent of our long-term job success is determined by three other factors associated with ‘happy’: optimism, social connection, and the way you perceive stress.

How can we connect more, become more optimistic, and stress less?

My research into educating for culture transformation and my work experiences have taught me not to accept our current default settings. We can grow and develop. We aren’t neatly and irrevocably ‘glass half-empty’ or ‘half-full’.

Wallflowers and prickly pears can learn terrific social skills. And we can build stronger, more positive skills in managing stress, and in helping colleagues deal with it too. Shawn says:

“…realize that happiness is a work ethic. Happiness is not a mystery. You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body. We not only need to work happy, we need to work at being happy.” Shawn Achor, 2011

So what are ways we can strengthen social connection, increase optimism, and improve how everyone in our workplace perceives and responds to stress?

Practise, reflection, practise, reflection.

Practise is a ‘doing word’ as we sometimes call verbs here in Australia. Doing something – and doing it over and over again – is necessary to develop the quality or state you are seeking. No amount of reading a blog or a book, or doing it once, or staring into space hoping things will improve by themselves will result in long-lasting transformations for you or your workplace. It takes a basket of practices that tap into all aspects of who you are.

We often think of practising physical skills rather than states of mind or character or heart. But traits like optimism can be learned, in the same way we embed any other skill: by practising every day. This allows us to develop and master traits we might have thought were out of reach.

It’s a particular type of practice, though. To achieve transformation, it must be deliberate, conscious, reflective, heartfelt, regular and open to change. Through practise, you can develop a more optimistic character, achieve a greater sense of connection and meaning in your workplace, and reduce your own stress and the stress of your team. You can also enjoy more positive social interactions at work.

It takes work, but it’s worth it – for the well-being of our workplaces, families and society – and for our own happiness (and success!).

You can find Shawn Achor’s 21 Day Challenge to build a happiness ethic here.

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