In Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change, Harvard University-trained researcher Shawn Achor builds on his international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage.
In his new book, he identifies ways to positively change your own perception of reality as well as other people’s world, making them not just happier in the moment, but more engaged, more motivated, more alive—permanently. In this condensed excerpt from Before Happiness, which premiered at number two on the New York Times Best Sellers list, Shawn discusses inspiring others to share the happiness you’ve achieved.
Positive inception is not just about spreading happiness but about helping others see the reality in which success (and happiness) is possible. Inception is about better helping others tap into their multiple intelligences and cognitive resources, and thereby to create happier and more successful teams. That involves the mastery of three key strategies.
Strategy 1: Franchise Success. The first step in creating a positive inception is to identify one aspect of a reality—yours or someone else’s—that, if replicated, would help other people harness their drive, motivation and multiple intelligences and become more successful. Research shows that to be contagious, these “success franchises” must be based upon a simple, easy-to-replicate idea.
Strategy 2: Rewrite the Social Script. Every aspect of our work and home life is guided by hidden social scripts. But certain social scripts wield more influence on our collective behavior than others. Social psychologists have found that the more positive one’s social script, the greater one’s ability to create positive social influence.
Strategy 3: Create a Shared Narrative. Finally, for positive inception to occur, you need to appeal not just to reason but to emotion. One of the best ways to plant a positive reality is to construct a narrative around some shared emotional experience, positive or negative. Interestingly, my research shows that creating a shared narrative around past adversity or failure is one of the best techniques for creating positive inception.
The goal is to help you transfer your most valuable reality to your teams, colleagues, friends and family. In doing so, you will create a renewable, sustainable source of positive energy that motivates, energizes and summons the collective multiple intelligences of those around you. Without inception, our own reality becomes less stable.
Strategy 1: Franchise Success (Make it contagious)
What is a success franchise?
“Success franchising” is the technique of getting others to replicate a positive cognitive or behavioral pattern that continually leads to success. Any success that can be observed can also be repeated.
We all have patterns in our lives, but the key is to create and repeat patterns or behaviors that continually lead to success. This principle sounds obvious, yet we choose the wrong realities to replicate all the time. Until we learn how to replicate our positive reality, we will be forced to waste valuable resources trying to reinvent the wheel each time. If we want to be successful, we need to learn not only how to replicate our own most valuable reality but how to spread it.
When we look around, it seems that we are all unique individuals with different personalities, thought patterns, beliefs, values and learning styles. And while this is technically true, it misses an important point. Our personalities may be distinct and unique, but our brains are highly interconnected; they are linked on a wireless mirror neuron network. Mirror neurons, as readers of The Happiness Advantage may remember, are those receptors in our brains that cause us to unconsciously mimic the actions of those around us. But mirror neurons are so key to positive inception because our thoughts and perceptions are what dictate our nonverbal actions. Researcher Paul Marsden at the University of Sussex wrote a great review of this research showing that not only yawns and smiles are contagious but also emotions like stress, anxiety, optimism, confidence, boredom and engagement. Thanks to our mirror neuron network, we are hardwired for inception.
Perhaps my favorite example of social contagion is the Dancing Plague of 1518. According to reports, it began when a woman in Strasbourg, France, started dancing in the streets and could not stop. Eventually she collapsed from exhaustion. At first people thought she had had a psychotic episode and that was the end of it. But then she started dancing again. In the next few days, thirty other people also experienced this same uncontrollable need to spastically dance. The authorities had to get involved because four hundred villagers were compulsively dancing day and night... and not out of joy, either. This was manic, desperate dancing, resulting in heart attacks and, incredibly, deaths.
Such stories show how easy it is for us to “catch” the mindset of even a single person. But people rarely talk about the positive contagions that have occurred throughout time: mass decisions to abolish slavery, global declines in smoking rates or widespread nonviolence movements in India or Egypt. Positive outbreaks also begin with a single dancer. You have the power to franchise positive habits in your home or workplace.