Shawn Achor’s “Before Happiness’ explores the paradigm of Happiness being the precursor for success and exploring positive reality being the precursor for Happiness. According to the book, the fundamental aspect is to see a possibility for happiness before anything and for that it is important to choose the correct reality.
He prescribes, quite similar to successful self help book series, a 5 step process to achieve this- ‘Choosing the most valuable reality’, ‘Mapping your meaning markers’, ‘Finding success accelerants’, ‘Cancel the noise’ and ‘Create positive inception’. In Each step, he starts with an incident or an event from history that leads to a principle, combines other psychological theories,research to strengthen the argument and finally gives few practical hints to implement the step in real life.
The flow from one principle to other is very good and hierarchical. For example ‘Choosing the most valuable reality’ has three sub steps to achieve this of ‘ Recognising alternative realities’ , ‘ Add Vantage Points’ and finally ‘Choosing most valuable reality’. This is the core principle based on which all other principles are layered upon. Shawn uses stress as an example, where stress is seen as a performance enhancer reduces anxiety, fear and contributes to better outcomes. There is one crucial point in this chapter which I wish was emphasised more – where any situation has two choices to respond – one to see alternate positive reality , second to change the situation. The boundaries of escapism, feeling victimised, staying positive come close to the realities that we may mistake one for the other.
‘Mapping success route’ emphasises having meaning markers ( those that are significant in life) and map our mental models around those meanings. I found this topic interesting , especially his view of people mapping success routes before failure routes is one of the key paradigms that is required to be successful.I was able to relate to something in my career where fear of failure and absence of meaning had led to be detached from projects and finding escape routes leading to self fulfilling prophecies. To readers, I suggest that you complete the exercises in this chapter before you go to next chapter.
‘Success accelerants’ is about movement towards the goals having seen a positive reality, a motivation( meaning marker). Shawn explains how the perception of distance from goal, movement to the goal post and the possibility of reaching goal post has a positive feedback loop to the effort taken. All of these occur in a loop where you switch realities, attach meaningful markers in the reality and look at events that give a positive perception to moving towards the goal.
Ideally, the book should have ended here , given the objective – atleast that is what I had expected. That is where he being a practitioner has helped to bring out an important step towards happiness – ‘ cancel the noise’. He explores the cave-man tendency of expecting threats more than hopes being carried over thousands of years to modern day psyche, which when combined with deluge of information would prevent us from ‘seeing’ positive realities. His suggestion of cancelling /ignoring the external & internal noise through use of a framework and objectivity is very practical and yet scientific. Finally he emphasises that the immediate social circle has to welcome the positive reality for the individual to have least possible resistance in environment
What worked for me?
I quite liked the approach of exploring the subject in a methodical and less ‘pop’ way. There is a sense of reality in the suggestions – especially the core of the argument is around seeing positive reality and at the outset, he has mentioned that positive reality is not based on delusion & desire but on objective facts & value based. The other aspect I liked is a thorough discussion of what the principle doesn’t mean and what are distractions to each principle mentioned. For example , in meaning markers he discusses about Map Hijackers where you spend time but with no outcomes. Unlike ‘Grit’ which is heavy on research ( in terms of density), this book has a good breezy feel to read without entering into the world of pop psychology or pedestal psychology.
It is also one of the few books where each chapter so beautifully blends into the next one and I sensed reading a nonfiction self help novel at times.
What did not work for me?
On the down side, I found some of examples where either extreme or ones where the environment inherently doesn’t challenge you. But these are few in number and the concepts presented following the examples. The other aspect that would have been useful is to briefly discuss the principles of ‘Happiness advantage’ which would have made the reading complete.