The Lollipop Effect, redux

Each Friday in May I will be reposting or adapting Wishful Thinking Works’ most popular posts. (New posts will still appear weekly on Monday or Tuesdays.) This post, first published over a year ago, is based on a study I read about in former Harvard professor, Shawn Achor’s book The Happiness Advantage. I hope you use the simple steps to give yourself, your children, and others you care about the advantage of happiness.


Good morning. Hope you are all set for a wonderful long weekend. Here’s some info that might make the summer weeks ahead even brighter.

What do sweet treats have to do with how our brains work?

Well, it turns out that positively priming your brain before attempting simple or complex tasks can improve your success on those tasks – big time. So how do we positively prime? In psychological circles it’s known as creating “positive affect”. In real world terms, it’s nothing more than giving yourself or others a boost of positive feelings or a shot of happiness, and that’s easier to do than you might imagine!

You can prime yourself to think more creatively and process information faster and more effectively by simply thinking of a happy memory or giving yourself a guilt-free treat such as a lollipop!

In his book, “The Happiness Advantage”, Harvard professor, Shawn Achor shares a study that reveals doctors, who were primed with lollipops, provided the correct diagnosis twice as fast as the doctors in the study’s control group. And, here’s the kicker – they didn’t even get to eat the suckers – they just received them!

That’s not all. Research shows that 4-year-old kids did better when asked to just think about something happy before starting a task. And, high-schoolers, who conjured up the happiest day of their lives before beginning a standardized math test (math-yikes!), scored higher than their fellow students.

Achor notes that much of this research is based on the positive psychology work of professor Barbara Fredrickson, which led to her “Broaden and Build Theory”. The “Broaden and Build Theory” represents the flip side of the “Flight or Fight Theory”.  The “Flight or Fight Theory” reflects the brain’s ability to focus and narrow our thoughts and actions in times of extreme fear or stress, which is a good thing in times of danger, but can deplete our resources when everything in our lives is perceived as stressful. Fredrickson’s work reveals that a happy brain broadens our perspective and thoughts, increasing creativity and stamina, which is a good thing!

Being relaxed and happy allows us to do better in most areas of our lives. Our brains are hard-wired to perform more successfully at “happy” than at neutral or unhappy.

Happiness matters! Feeling positive makes a huge difference on outcomes in educational, personal, and professional settings, and as the studies above and many others show – even the simplest things can make us happy.

Are you ready to get happy?

Start your weekend by priming your brain:

  • Think of something that makes you happy. Picture it. Relive it in your mind. Now, savor it for a few seconds – you know you are “there” when you are experiencing almost the same glow as when your happy moment  first occurred.
  • Listen to music you love on the way to work. (I know it’s too late for today, but consider jammin’ in the car on the way home.)
  • Enjoy a special treat each day when you arrive at work. Or, have one waiting for you when you get home. (Not all treats have to be high calorie or even food!)
  • Keep a joke or riddle book in the kitchen for the kids to share with you while you are making dinner.
  • Dance while doing the dishes.
  • Use summer nights for stargazing or sleeping out.
  • Think of ways to create an organization where fun is not a dirty word and buying the donuts is part of the strategic plan.
  • Create a toy corner where you and other staff can mingle and “play” with a variety of games and other fun stuff.
  • Color – keep a nice big box of Crayola’s on-hand.
  • Next week, encourage staff to swap stories about the fun they had over the weekend.
  • Allow physical distractions in the office such as: hall golf, desk-top football or cubicle badminton. Be creative. (Cubicle badminton:  wad a piece of 8 1/2 x 11 paper into a ball, use a steno pad or other spiral notebook to serve it over the net (cubicle wall) – discuss your latest project with your colleague while volleying back and forth.)

The options are endless for upping the happiness level of your home, office, or classroom. Keep your ideas simple, mix them up regularly, focus and savor the good stuff and then sit back and see what happens. I’d love to hear what works for you.

In my perfect world, orange Tootsie Roll Pops grow on trees; just thinking of it makes me smile. And, reaching up to pick one makes me very, very happy.


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