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Before Happiness

The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change

By Shawn Achor
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  • Contains 9 key ideas
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Before Happiness by Shawn Achor

Before Happiness (2013) is a self-help guide with a twist. It doesn’t lay down a golden road to happiness and success. Instead, it looks at what we need to have in place before we can achieve these things. The answer is nothing less than a revolution in the way we see reality and approach the challenges in our lives. 

Key idea 1 of 9

Our ability to achieve happiness and success hinges on whether we perceive them as possible.

If you had to name the most important factor in happiness and success, what would you say? Some people would point to money, social connections, or some other sort of external resource. Others might say, all that matters is actually on the inside; to them, it’s all about qualities like intelligence or talent. 

Who is right? Is it even possible to come up with just one correct answer? Lots of people have no money or powerful friends, and they still achieve happiness and success. Others are miserable and unproductive, despite their exceptional intelligence and talent. And then there are those who find ways of being happy and successful even though they might consider themselves quite average. 

What explains these differences? Well, the answer has to do with the way people perceive reality.

The key message here is: Our ability to achieve happiness and success hinges on whether we perceive them as possible. 

Of course, happiness and success aren’t just about perception. Whether you want to write a novel or get a promotion, your ability to achieve anything in life depends on having certain internal resources at your disposal. You need energy, drive, focus, and relevant skills, along with intellectual, emotional, and social intelligence. 

If you leverage your resources as best you can, you’ll maximize your chances of success at whatever you’re trying to do. But the crucial word here is “if.” No matter how many resources you’ve been blessed with, they won’t do you any good if you don’t make use of them. And that’s where perception comes into the equation. 

Let’s say you’ve got plenty of talent, intelligence, and so on – but you don’t see any path to a promotion. Maybe you’ve got an unsupportive boss who seems to be standing in your way, or a workload that seems too heavy for you to succeed. 

Well, if you perceive your obstacles as being insurmountable, you’ll probably give up on surmounting them. After all, what’s the point? If your goal is impossible, it’s a waste of time and effort to even try. 

Conversely, the more you perceive your targets as things that are achievable, the more you’ll be motivated to try and achieve them. And you’ll probably throw all your resources at them. That doesn’t guarantee success, but it does give you a fighting chance – whereas giving up before you’ve even tried is a surefire way of failing. 

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