Newspaper pages don’t get much more depressing than USA Today’s Money section on July 18. It led off with a story on Federal Reserve chairman Ben Bernanke declaring that U.S. economic growth faced threats from the European financial crisis and from reduced spending by U.S. businesses. Below was a giant photo of a drought-stunted Indiana cornfield and the headline “Hopes Dry Up in Midwest: Devastating Drought Reaching Point of No Return at Many Farms.” And the mood didn’t get any cheerier with the bottom story, which reported that 35% of displaced workers were raiding their retirement funds to survive.
Certainly, there’s no shortage of darts flying about that could burst the housing industry’s slowly inflating balloon. But even if none threatened us, I sense a depressed air among dealers who had been counting on a more vigorous comeback than what we’ve seen. Just a couple of weeks ago, I thought I detected wistfulness in the voice of one manufacturer’s marketing manager when she asked my parent company’s housing expert to predict when we’d get back to the housing market’s peak of more than 2 million starts. (His response: It’ll be several years before we even top 1 million.)
All this bad news and all those unfulfilled hopes makes this a great time to introduce you to Shawn Achor. He’s a researcher and expert on the relationship between happiness and success, and what he’s learned upends prevailing attitudes.
Most of us grew up thinking that happiness comes only after achieving success. But in his book “The Happiness Advantage,” Achor argues the reverse. “Happiness is the precursor to success, not merely the result,” he writes. “Happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement, giving us the competitive edge.”
It turns out that a positive, open attitude can propel us much further ahead than a grinding, fretful, glass-half-empty approach. “If all you strive for is diminishing the bad, you’ll only attain the average,” Achor says, “and you’ll miss out entirely on the opportunity to exceed the average.”
Among his recommendations for embracing positive psychology: Meditate for a few minutes daily to get calm and content. Find something to look forward to. Build an environment in which you have three times as many positive as negative interactions each day. Take time to get fresh air. And spend money on experiences rather than stuff.
Above all, don’t wait for times to get better before you allow yourself to start feeling better. Achor says: “People who put their heads down and wait for work to bring eventual happiness put themselves at a huge disadvantage, while those who capitalize on positivity every chance they get come out ahead.”
I say: Don’t wait. Be happy.