Before Happiness — Book Review and Summary

Before Happiness: Do you want to achieve success in your personal and professional endeavours? The first step is to see a reality where success is possible. Only when we choose to believe we live in a world in which challenges can be overcome, in which our behaviour matters, and in which change is possible can we summon all our drive, energy, and emotional and intellectual resources to make that change possible.

4.03 (2,146 ratings by Goodreads)


Before Happiness, the 5 hidden keys to achieving success, spreading happiness, and sustaining positive change.

Who’s Shawn Achor?

Shawn Achor, a psychologist who teaches and conduct education-related research at Harvard University. He wrote the international bestseller, The Happiness Advantage. He spent 12 years at Harvard studying happiness. Among his talk, is this Ted Talk below which is awesome by the way.

Before Happiness — Book Summary

According to Shawn Achor, in order to become happier, we need to create a “positive reality” that encourages and enables happiness. Our levels of happiness and success derive from “your (our) perception of your (our) world.”

So, no matter what’s going on in our daily life, your positive reality opens the door to achieving positive change and becoming more content. When you consistently assemble your “cognitive, intellectual and emotional resources,” you will experience “positive genius…the greatest precursor of success, performance and even happiness.”


Increase your aptitude for the positive genius that leads to happiness by developing five skills:

Skill 1: Choose the Most Valuable Reality

Being productive requires selecting the most valuable reality from the multiple realities available to you. Author Shawn Achor first learned this lesson in the US Navy. When his captain ordered him to make his submarine “dive,” suddenly the deck beneath his feet shifted to a steep 60-degree angle. He realized why the chairs were bolted to the floor! This “Angles and Dangles” drill is a common exercise for new recruits aboard Navy submarines.

“The more you care about a goal or target, the more energy and effort you will invest in achieving it.”

“This works in the other direction too; the more you invest in a task or challenge, the more you begin to care about it.”

The 2008 economic recession turned out to be a similar “angles and dangles” exercise for the US economy. Millions of Americans lost their jobs even long-term employees with 20 or more years of experience. Those who weren’t downsized had to work longer hours under stressful conditions and less pay. However, despite this chaos, some people thrived.

To pursue your most valuable reality, view your choices from different vantage points.

For example…

A manager could decide which works better: punishing people to push them to achieve or offering rewards to pull them along. Using multiple vantage points broadens your horizons and opens your mind to many possibilities, but seeing situations from a single vantage point limits your view.

Add new vantage points to your professional life by asking, “What is work like…right now?”

Write down your answers.

Did you note any negatives, such as a hostile work environment or a heavy workload?

Did you list positives, such as having a lot of freedom and responsibility or forming strong bonds with your co-workers?

Rewrite your answer using “only true statements.”

Then create a third version of the first two realities without duplicating any details from the first two. The goal of this exercise is to broaden your perceptions by creating “three realities.”

This might be rather difficult at first, but, you will be better with practice.

Other than Before Happiness, you should read more on why we often feel unhappy, found out the reason by realizing the thieves of happiness. There are 5 thieves of happiness.


Skill 2: Make A Mental Map For Success

“Powerful, yet usually hidden, mental maps” steer you when you make a choice, confront a problem or establish a new objective. You might get lost if your map doesn’t have “meaning markers”.

By the way, meaning markers is the notations of the milestones that are most important to you. Being positive becomes more difficult when you become distracted or disengaged at work, school or home. Pushing for success without meaning can lead to burnout, depression, apathy and eventual failure, but following your meaning markers increases your productivity, energy, engagement and profits.

Gallup studied men who lived to be 95 years old and found that their average age of retirement was 80. Among these men, 93% “kept working because they found their work meaningful and 86%…because they found their work fun.”

This actually makes sense since we really want to find meaning in our work while having fun.

“The better your brain is at using its energy to focus on the positives, the greater your chances at success.”

Make better mental maps by identifying your meaning markers, reorienting your plans and mapping for success, not a failure.


Wharton Business School researchers studying the positive and negative effects of having meaningful work found that people have a three times higher level of motivation, engagement and productivity when their work centres on positive meaning markers. People experience higher stress and higher blood pressure when their work lacks a sense of purpose.

Finding a purpose at work keeps people working long past the usual retirement age.

“When you smile, your brain releases the neurochemical dopamine, which improves your mood and your reality as well.”

We also need to beware of “map hijackers,” that is the negative attitudes that inhibit your success.

These may include an overemphasis on career advancement, tying your self-worth to your weight or appearance, yielding to emotional or environmental triggers, and so forth.

To achieve the benefits that solid meaning markers confer, orient your mental map around them. You’re also more likely to feel negative emotions such as anger or frustration if you focus on yourself to the exclusion of others.


Enhance your life by giving “social support” to your colleagues and increasing “the depth and breadth of your social relationships.” Scientists have mistakenly focused more on received social support than on given social support. Receiving social support does have a positive impact on job satisfaction, engagement and health, but supporting others confers even greater long-run benefits, including career advancement.

“If you’re not giving at work, you’re not getting ahead either.”

“Positive realities are contagious in both directions.”


Skill 3: Take Advantage of the “X-Spot”

The X-spot is the endorphin-driven “brain event” that occurs when you realize a finish line is near and you experience a burst of speed. For instance, the X-spot in a 26.2-mile marathon race comes at approximately 26.1 miles. The X-spot also occurs as live events unfold when you’re close to achieving your goals. Your brain calculates the distance to your goal, your likelihood of success and how much effort you need to reach it. You can “accelerate your success rates” by finding and focusing on your X-spots as “early and often” as possible.

“No matter how high your IQ, your emotional intelligence or your ability to relate to others, if you can’t learn to change your reality, you’ll never be truly inspired.”

Enlarging your perception of what constitutes success can confer the same benefit as increasing your proximity to your goal. Change your perception of reality to change the impact of your outcome. Create X-spots by breaking big projects into smaller tasks. For example, set your X-spot at the 70% mark. If your goal is to raise $1,000,000, reward your team when they reach $700,000 to give them momentum to push forward.


Writing down your progress can be a powerful motivator.

However, we need to note that not all mental tasks are equal. Some require more energy than others, and some require just the perception of more energy. For instance, giving a 45-minute keynote presentation might feel more draining than running an 8-hour training class. Exercising cognitive functions that you use regularly is less tiring than activating unused cognitive muscles. When you’re tired physically, walking up a flight of stairs can feel exhausting.

The same thing happens when you’re mentally tired. Your brain requires glucose for energy, so don’t attack hard cognitive tasks when you’re hungry. Avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings or combining two mentally challenging tasks. Increase your thrust by hiding the clock. Watching the clock makes the passage of time feel slower. Help customers make decisions by simplifying their path. If they face too many choices or lots of fine print, they won’t buy because the process takes too much time and mental energy.

“Noise is much more than just a distraction; it blocks out signals that can point you toward positive growth.”


Skill 4: Heed Positive Signals and Cancel The Noise That Distorts Reality

Information overload often makes it difficult to tell the difference between signal and noise. Signal information is factual and dependable; it opens you to fresh potentials and sources that can help you succeed. Let useful signals in by weeding out the noise, which consists of anything adverse or untrue. Fear, anxiety and other negative voices constitute internal noise that can drown out helpful, positive signals.

“Often the best way to raise success rates and increase your bottom line is to use not numbers, but meaning.”

Some people hear the signal, while others become mired in noise. Consider two financial experts. In 2006, John Paulson, who owned one of the world’s largest hedge funds, knew the housing market was going to collapse. He made $19 billion bettings against the market. Economist Irving Fisher, who held a sterling reputation as a perceptive analyst, said on October 21, 1929, that stocks had reached “a permanently high plateau.” He didn’t heed the warning signs other economists saw. Three days later, the United States suffered the worst stock market crash in its history. Twelve years later, a similar event occurred when US Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, dismissed intelligence that reached him three days before Pearl Harbor suggesting that Japan would attack.

In conclusion, when smart people make such catastrophic mistakes they’ve failed to distinguish signals from noise.

Incoming information is noise if it’s “unusable, untimely, hypothetical” or simply “distracting.”

Information is unusable if it doesn’t cause you to change your behaviour. It’s untimely if you won’t use it soon. Hypothetical information is what “could be” instead of “what is.” Distractions could be anything that keeps you from achieving your goals. And according to Achor, reducing noise “by just 5%” could boost your signal and helps you lead a happier, healthier, more productive life.

And the following could help to decrease your noise consumption by at least 5% :

  • Don’t turn on your radio during the first five minutes of your trip.
  • Turn off the radio when speaking with other passengers.
  • Mute TV and online advertising.
  • Delete news media links from your bookmarks.
  • Limit your intake of predictions from political or financial commentators.
  • Avoid reading articles about tragedies you can’t change.
  • “When working, listen to music without lyrics.”

Work to cancel your internal noise. Put an end to your inner voices of worry, self-doubt and fear. “Negative thinking” whether based on fear, anxiety, self-doubt, pessimism or worry which is the most dangerous noise.

It limits your ability to hear positive signals and undercuts your efforts to make positive change. Although some fear is natural, keep it in check. Estimating the real likelihood of each scenario you worry about will force you to think more objectively about your prospects.

“Mental maps without meaning…lead to apathy, depression, burnout and, ultimately, failure. That’s because success without meaning is hollow and not worth the effort.”

“When you are distracted or depressed by some piece of information, if it doesn’t spur you to change your behavior, then that information is unusable and thus noise.”


Skill 5: Create a Positive Reality

Build a positive reality, or “positive inception,” by spreading or “franchising” success, “creating a shared narrative” around an emotional experience and rewriting your “social script,” the unwritten behaviours that control your life.

Franchising success means making behaviour contagious. The 11,000 employees of the Ochsner Health System made this a priority. Ochsner adopted the “10/5 Way,” part of hotel chain Ritz-Carlton’s “five-star” customer service. Ritz-Carlton trains employees to make eye contact and smile when guests are within 10 feet. When guests are within five feet, staffers say hello. Ochsner trained its physicians, nurses, administrators, and others to smile and say hello when they come within five or ten feet of someone else. After Ochsner adopted the 10/5 Way, everything improved: health outcomes, patient satisfaction, number of patient visits and profits.

“How often have you spent more time thinking about how to get out of a phone call or lunch date than it would have taken to just do the call or have the lunch?”

A shared narrative can help make your work meaningful. Adam Grant of the Wharton Business School demonstrates this power in his book Give and Take. Grant conducted his research at a call centre, where he worked with “new hires undergoing sales and service training.”


The first group of trainees received a motivational speech from their leader in addition to normal training.

In the second group, newcomers received training and a fellow employee talked to them about why the call centre was so important to the company’s overall growth.

The third group received training but no speeches.

The fourth group’s training featured speeches by both the corporate leader and the employee.

The third group made 46 sales and $3,738, but the fourth group made 271 sales and $21,376. The employee who discussed how everyone contributed made a huge difference.

“We need to stop wasting mental energy lamenting how little social support we receive…and instead channel our brains’ resources toward giving more social support.”

Social scripts often propagate negative realities. You can rewrite your social scripts and share an upbeat message. For example, change the way you begin when you make telephone calls. Instead of starting out by apologizing for a delay in getting back to someone or saying you’re swamped, start with something positive. Likewise, to motivate your team, start a meeting by saying, “I’m happy to see you all today” instead of “Let’s get going because we have so much to do.”


To make your social script more positive, heed your facial expression, body language and tone of voice. Smile, lean forward and speak with warmth. Inject humour into your conversation. Society sees funny people as being more intelligent, better leaders and more attractive romantic partners.

“If you or your team are going through a rough period, ramp up the ratio of positive interactions, even by doing something as simple as complimenting someone or bringing in doughnuts.”

Working with others in a joint effort to overcome failure or adversity often creates strong bonds. In that way, the stress in the workplace can build tighter bonds. In 2011, Adobe shared a video showing how it triumphed over adversity. Behind the Splash Screen: The Making of CS5 covers how Adobe failed when it first released Creative Suite 5, one of its flagship products. In the video, team members describe with pride how they successfully revised their entire code within six months – a job that normally would take a year. 

Historically, happiness was seen as a privilege but doesn’t have to be. We can choose to be happy, before happiness demonstrate that, the 5 thieves of happiness teaches us what to avoid while Happiness: A History told us the history of happiness.


Before Happiness — Book Review

I would rate the book at 9.5 / 10.0 for all the awesome lessons. The language is easy to read. So, it’s great.

You guys should consider getting one, or two. You know, just in case.

Read Before Happiness



Author: Muhamad Aarif

A notorious book addict by night and an oil and gas executive by day. As Mark Twain said, "The man who doesn't read good books has no advantage over the man who can't read them." So, read, read, and read some more.

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