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We live in a time of information abundance, which far too many of us see as information overload. With the sum total of human knowledge, past and present, at our fingertips, we’re faced with a crisis of attention: which ideas should we engage with, and why? Big Think is an evolving roadmap to the best thinking on the planet — the ideas that can help you think flexibly and act decisively in a multivariate world.

A word about Big Ideas and Themes — The architecture of Big Think

Big ideas are lenses for envisioning the future. Every article and video on bigthink.com and on our learning platforms is based on an emerging “big idea” that is significant, widely relevant, and actionable. We’re sifting the noise for the questions and insights that have the power to change all of our lives, for decades to come. For example, reverse-engineering is a big idea in that the concept is increasingly useful across multiple disciplines, from education to nanotechnology.

Themes are the seven broad umbrellas under which we organize the hundreds of big ideas that populate Big Think. They include New World Order, Earth and Beyond, 21st Century Living, Going Mental, Extreme Biology, Power and Influence, and Inventing the Future.

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It Pays to be Happy. How Can Joy Be Sustained?

December 19, 2013, 12:00 AM

We’ve been talking about happiness for thousands of years, and there is indeed nothing new under the sun. However, we have developed new ways to measure and understand happiness, and how to direct it toward productive outcomes.

That is the goal of positive psychology, says Shawn Achor, one of the leaders in this field. Why are some people thriving while other people remain average or even fall below the average?

In a lesson on Big Think Edge, the only forum on YouTube designed to help you get the skills you need to be successful in a rapidly changing world, Achor explores what he calls "the happiness advantage," or the idea that your brain works at optimal levels when you are able to sustain positivity or joy.

Achor says that sustaining happiness is important because, after all, not everyone is happy all of the time. Those that are happy all of the time have a disorder. What Achor studies are the top 10 percent of the happiest people. Naturally, these people with the happiness advantage tend to be unhappy some of the time, but their levels of happiness fluctuate around a baseline that is higher than the rest of us. So the goal of Achor's research is to move that baseline up for everyone. 

There are a number of tools that can be deployed to increase the happiness advantage. For instance, Dr. Fred Bryant, a professor at Loyola University Chicago coined the term savoring. Bryant's research shows that people who are able to savor, or prolong and intensify their enjoyment, are more optimistic and more satisfied with life. 

Methods of savoring include sharing an experience with someone else, taking a mental photograph when you are in the moment, slowing down meals and other activities to sharpen your sensory perceptions and reflecting upon experiences afterward through writing. One can also savor future enjoyment through positive anticipation. 

Sign up for a free trial and watch Shawn Achor's Big Think Edge lesson here:

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Image courtesy of Shutterstock

More from the Big Idea for Thursday, December 19 2013

The Happiness Advantage

The "happiness advantage" is how your brain's performance improves at optimal levels of positivity. The advantage, science shows us, is that you have higher energy levels and are more productive w... Read More…


It Pays to be Happy. How Ca...

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