Happiness is the real secret to success
by Adele Shevel
TAL Ben-Shahar, the “happiness professor”, is not as exuberant in person as one might expect from someone espousing the principles of positive psychology.
He is engaging. But it’s a relief not to get a large, flashy smile from the writer who has made The New York Times’s list of bestsellers and has been translated into 25 languages. He ran the most popular course in the history of Harvard, but he is no hyped-up self-help guru promising a future of yachts and beautiful people oozing dollars and champagne.
Ben-Shahar tells his students he is well placed to teach positive psychology because, although he is naturally pessimistic, he has become more optimistic by applying the principles he has gleaned over the years.
He was drawn to psychology in his second year as a student at Harvard. He had been doing very well academically and in sport, but he wasn’t happy. “I wasn’t depressed -but I was unhappy. This is it? Of course I went to the self-help books, but they didn’t help me,” he said.
He switched from computer literacy to philosophy and psychology, drawn to work done on wellbeing. The new subjects helped him to ask and answer the questions key to becoming happier.
By helping others to become happier, Ben-Shahar has since found, he has also been able to make them more creative, productive and innovative. This led him to become the co-founder of Potentialife, a company aimed at helping people to realise their leadership potential.
He is visiting South Africa, where Potentialife’s 11th office worldwide was launched in Johannesburg last year. He knows a fair bit about the country, having lived in Vanderbijlpark for five years between the ages of nine and 14. He was a junior Springbok squash player and can still speak a bit of Afrikaans.
His work has taken him to schools around the world -Colombia, the US, China and his native Israel. He helps schools to implement a 30-hour programme in which psychologists teach a teacher, who then teaches pupils. The outcome is reduced levels of anxiety and depression, increased wellbeing and self-confidence — and better grades.
“When I go to schools around the world and say I want to make students happier, they say: ‘That’s nice.’ When I say they will actually be more successful, their grades will improve -then that opens the door,” said Ben-Shahar.
In business, Potentialife’s programmes focus on leadership. Leadership was crucial to a company’s success, said Ben-Shahar. “It’s not about radical transformation necessarily, but if key leadership changes are made, it can lead to significant business results: increase in job satisfaction, higher levels of engagement, higher motivation.”
It’s not enough for a person at the top to take initiative or to be motivated -these qualities were needed at every level, said Ben-Shahar. You should also learn to accept negative emotions. “Only two kinds of people don’t experience negative emotions — psychopaths and the dead.”
Stress could galvanise you into action, but periods of recovery were needed, said Ben-Shahar. It’s about managing energy better — determining what depletes and what restores you. You should then focus on what restores you: working out, walking, basking in the sun, good nutrition, relationships that nurture rather than deplete, and sufficient sleep. Multitasking drains you, focusing on one thing restores energy. Other factors that make you more successful are engagement, mindfulness, and having a strong sense of purpose.
Good leaders led by example, said Ben-Shahar. And an organisation needs leaders at every level, not only at the top. Good business, community, and political leaders take responsibility rather than accord blame.
Positive psychology was not about being happy all the time, said Ben-Shahar. It was about increasing a sense of happiness little by little, which manifested in a significant improvement in leadership behaviour. You become a better team player, more engaged, more innovative, more productive and more resilient.
On average, 50% of an individual’s happiness is determined by genetics and 10% depends on external circumstances — how much money we have, the weather, where we live, said Ben-Shahar. Extreme circumstances, such as living in poverty or in a war zone, would obviously skew this. The remaining 40% of your happiness depends on the choices you make: career, romantic partners and friends. “The number one predictor of happiness is the quality time we spend with the people we love and who love us,” said Ben Shahar.
Small choices also made a big difference, he said. Do you choose to breathe deeply on a regular basis? Do you choose to be grateful for what you have? By being mindful of small choices, you become an active agent, rather than a passive victim.
Which corporations does Ben-Shahar admire? Google, for one -it understands that it needs leaders at every level. They work very hard and they have time for recovery. They introduce mindfulness exercises and focus on nutrition. They are very much about identifying purpose and forming healthy relationships.
And he admires Whole Foods, whose CEO, John Mackey, wrote the book Conscious Capitalism, which takes the best of the free market and the best of the conscientious market.
A company was no longer an assembly line, said Ben-Shahar. “Today we need more thinkers, more people to innovate and to create value, not just follow orders.”
Gambia: UN Happiness Day Observed in the Gambia
By Abdoulie Nyockeh
The United Nations Friday observed International Happiness Day in The Gambia at a ceremony held at the Bakau New Town Lower Basic School.
International UN Happiness Day is an annual event of the United Nations, which has been conducted since 2012 on 20 March of very year, to reflect on the past and to reinforce the importance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and make them part of the public policy objective for countries.
The ceremony was attended by stakeholders from the United Nations, the headmistress of Bakau Lower Basic, Senegalese teachers, Gambian English teachers, Bakau LBS students, Wellingara LBS students, and Tallinding LBS students.
The celebration of this great day also witnessed students participating in debates on different topics, among which was the debate on whether money can buy happiness; and what makes a student to be happy in school, as the day was all part of joy and happiness for the United Nations and the children.
In her remarks, the headmistress of Bakau Lower Basic School, Haddy Njie, welcomed all the participants and the organizers from the UK for choosing her school this year as the centre for the celebration of the UN International Happiness Day.
Mrs Njie recalled that the UN International Day of Happiness was first launched in 2012 to reinforce the importance of happiness and well-being as universal goals and make them part of public policy objective for countries.
"As we commemorate this day, I would like to suggest for us to surround ourselves with happy people, laugh more and experience more positively in our lives," she stated.
Mrs Njie said Bakau New Town Lower Basic School might not be the biggest, wealthiest or greatest school in The Gambia, but it is certainly among the happiest.
She also commended the UK foundation for giving her school the opportunity to host such an important conference.
Dr Des Bowden BXC from the UK expressed gratitude to the Gambian people, and Bakau Lower Basic School for welcoming them to the Smiling Coast of Africa and for hosting the event in The Gambia.
The cerebration brought together teachers from Senegal, The Gambia and students from Tallinding, Wellingara and Bakau Lower Basic School to share and celebrate with them the United Nations International Happiness Day.
According to Dr Bowden, it was also part of their plan for the celebration, to conduct training courses for Gambia College students in Brikama next week.
He thanked their host BLBS for making the event successful.
Lamin Jarju, UNESCO ASPNET national coordinator, in his remarks, emphasised the importance of the day, adding that the day is an annual event that UN conducts every year since 2012.
He described the day as important to the United Nations to support peace and harmony in the country, as they want people to live in a peaceful environment.
Celebrating the day with the children would also contribute to their well-being, and improve their knowledge in school as they would be exposed to different skills.
Be happy for this moment. This moment is your life.-Omar Khayyam
Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions. -Dalai Lama
There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.-George Sand
Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.-Mahatma Gandhi
Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.-Abraham Lincoln
Happiness often sneaks in through a door you didn’t know you left open.-John Barrymore
Happiness can exist only in acceptance.-George Orwell
Remember that the happiest people are not those getting more, but those giving more.-H. Jackson Brown, Jr.
Happiness… consists in giving, and in serving others. -Henry Drummond
The first recipe for happiness is: avoid too lengthy meditation on the past.-Andre Maurois
It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.-Agnes Repplier
If you want to be happy, be.-Leo Tolstoy
Most people would rather be certain they’re miserable, than risk being happy.-Robert Anthony
The best way to cheer yourself up is to try to cheer somebody else up.-Mark Twain
Nobody really cares if you’re miserable, so you might as well be happy.-Cynthia Nelms
I think the key to life is just being a happy person, and happiness will bring you success.-Diego Val
For every minute you are angry you lose sixty seconds of happiness- Ralph Waldo Emerson
You cannot protect yourself from sadness without protecting yourself from happiness.- Jonathan Safran Foer