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Before Happiness

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

By: Shawn Achor

Reviewed By: Ramona Sukhraj

Finding happiness is one of the most common struggles for people of all ages and backgrounds. It’s also a subject Shawn Achor is very familiar with.

The winner of numerous teaching awards at Harvard University, where he’s delivered lectures on positive psychology, Achor is one of the world's leading experts on the connection between happiness and success.

Shawn's research on happiness has graced the cover of Harvard Business Review, led to over 2.6 million views on his TED talk, and even caught the attention of Oprah, so it's pretty safe to say he knows how to put a smile on your face. 


A few years ago, Achor published the New York Time’s bestseller, The Happiness Advantage, in which he proposed the notion that happy people are successful – not the other way around.

Naturally, the next question from Achor’s readers was “Okay, so how do I become happy in the first place, then?”

The result was an entirely new book called Before Happiness: The 5 Hidden Keys to Achieving Success, Spreading Happiness, and Sustaining Positive Change.

In it, Achor discovers that a person’s happiness is inherently tied to their perception of reality.

In other words, two people living in the exact same circumstances can experience reality in two completely different ways – leading to one person being happy and successful and the other unhappy and underachieving.

The Five Keys to Happiness & Success

  1. Focus on the most valuable reality. Become a “positive genius” by teaching your brain to focus on the best possible outcomes. You can still acknowledge that negative things exist, but they shouldn’t be your primary area of focus.
  2. Map your success. Base your goals around things that you have an emotional connection to and that matter the most to you.
  3. Find the X-spot. The small events and moments (or “success accelerants”) that help you believe success is close, and more importantly, possible.
  4. Learn noise-canceling. Ignore the external and internal negativity that distracts you from being happy and finding your purpose.
  5. Positive inception. Transfer your positive reality to others around you. Passing your positivity to others raises the happiness of the entire group, which in turn comes back around and makes you even happier.

Let’s dive into the five keys in a little more depth:

1. Your Most Valuable Reality

Too many people are under the false impression that happiness isn’t possible for them, however, Achor’s research shows otherwise and Before Happiness makes the point that it’s our personal responsibility to create our own happiness.

Creating a happy life is a choice we can make and it’s one we must make if we want to be happy and help those around us be happy as well. For many people, this all starts with understanding that happiness is possible and that our perception of reality is a choice.

We can choose what we focus on, so why not focus on things that add value to our lives, instead of the things that bring us down?

2. Mapping Your Success

According to Achor, mapping your success relies on figuring out your Meaning Markers – the things that are truly meaningful to you and help you not only define success, but define happiness.

What means the most to you? Making more money, spending time with your family, traveling the world?

There are no right or wrong answers, but you have to figure out what it is that will truly make you happy if you want to formulate a path to get there.

Once you know where you want to go, you need to look at your current mental map. Are you on the right path to your version of success? If not, it’s time to make some changes.

Achor also makes the point that success routes are different from escape routes. You have to ask yourself “Am I moving away from failure or am I moving towards success.”

A true success map does the latter.

Understanding the importance of mapping your success can not only help you personally, but it can also help you better understand what motivates your team or as the marketer, even your buyers.

3. Find the X-Spot

Part of mapping your success is being able to recognize when you have achieved your goal. What are you looking for? How will success manifest itself?

Achor defines “The X-Spot” as:

“At the precise moment your brain realizes that attaining your goal is not only possible but probable, it releases a potent stream of chemicals that help you speed up . . . the closer you perceive success to be, the faster you move toward it….”

For runners in a marathon, this may be seeing the finish line in the distance or for entrepreneurs, it may be earning your first dollar. Whatever the benchmarks of success are for you, identify and track them.

4. Learn Noise-Cancelling

Even if you’ve identified your X-Spot, it can sometimes be difficult to recognize because of external negativity or as Achor calls it, “noise.”

From bad global news to gossip or the bad mood of a coworker, external noise can distract from your personal goals or endeavors.

Achor recommends “noise cancelling,” or reducing your intake of negativity by 10%. This can include limiting the time you spend listening to the radio, watching the news, or spend on social media.

5. Influence Others Through Positive Inception

I get by with a little help from my friends.

This isn’t just a Beatles lyric, but one of Achor’s keys to being happily successful.

By adding positivity to the lives of those around you, be it your teammates or loved ones, you can create positive outcomes for everyone.

One way we can do this is by rewriting the social script, and treating others with the positivity you want to be treated with. In other words, we can influence how others behave by choosing how we behave and leading the way.

According to Achor, whoever speaks first in a conversation leads the way for how that conversation will unfold. He calls this the Power Lead.

When someone speaks first, and we lead with a positive manner or subject matter, we eliminate the opportunity for another person to lead in with gossip and negativity.

An easy way to do this in a business setting is to start a meeting by outlining all the successes your team has had and giving out praise. Another way is to reframe the narrative to a shared narrative, focusing on “we” instead of “I.”

When you imply that you are all in it together as a team, it creates synergy that bonds everyone together. Combined with a Power Lead, this can be an effective way to get everyone energized and focused on the same objectives.