The Happiness Advantage looks into the origins of happiness and the positive effects that happiness has on our productivity. Based on extensive research in positive psychology, the book offers concrete tips on how to increase your own happiness and thus your chances for success.
Traditional psychology looks at averages: are people less fulfilled than average? Less happy than average? If so, traditional psychology aims to bring people back up to what is considered the average level of happiness or fulfillment.
In addition, traditional psychology focuses on the negative, questioning what makes people fall below average rather than what lifts them above it.
However, the problem with this approach is that, in our obsession with averages, we ultimately can’t move beyond that point into excellence. By improving only in the areas where you are lacking, you miss out on opportunities to surpass the average.
Consider for a moment that four out of five Harvard students suffer from depression and consider their studies to be a source of stress.
Looking at this data, traditional psychology would consider our four Harvard students to exhibit an average level of happiness. After all, they represent the clear majority! However, in doing so, they completely miss the one anomaly: the fifth, non-depressed student!
This is important, because one student who isn’t depressed is also the one who’s most likely to succeed – both in school and later at work.
This realization that we should focus on positives gave birth to the field of positive psychology.
Positive psychology investigates what it is that makes people excel, with the ultimate goal of applying that knowledge and thereby raising the average.
So, what makes that one Harvard student succeed where the other four failed?
After living among Harvard students for 12 years and traveling all over the world trying to figure out what lifts people above average, the author found that successful people are successful because of their specific interpretation of reality.
For instance, his experience of students in Soweto, South Africa revealed the vast majority to be delighted with their studies as they saw schoolwork as a challenge and a privilege. Compare this with Harvard students, many of whom see school as a source of stress.