3 Ways to be a Rational Optimist

by HighTower Advisors on July 31, 2019

Technological processing power may be growing exponentially, but human processing power seems to be on the decline. With anxiety and depression rates skyrocketing around the globe in people young and old, humanity is finding that the world we have built for ourselves can be difficult to navigate.

This is a problem for many reasons, but according to happiness expert and well-known Ted Talk presenter Shawn Achor, a keynote speaker at the 2019 HighTower Advisor Summit, being unhappy can stop us from achieving personal and professional growth—affecting all of our relationships, including client relationships.

According to Achor, “Happiness is one of the greatest competitive advantages of the modern economy,” and yet it’s a state of mind that’s getting harder and harder for us to find. Our brains are trained to constantly scan the world for threats and negatives, and it takes a conscious effort to reprogram the brain to look for the things we are grateful for.

While genes and environment have a baseline effect on a person’s mood, Achor says there are small changes we can make to bring more positivity into our daily lives and interactions, both professional and personal.

“Maybe it’s a daily habit change or a change in the way we interact with other people, but we can break the tyranny of genes and environment have over the trajectory of our own levels of happiness and optimism.”

And doing so can have a ripple effect on the world around us. “Every business outcome and educational outcome that we can test for rises significantly when the human brain is thinking positively,” said Achor.

So how can we retrain our brains to find more joy? Here are some of Achor’s tips for choosing happiness every day.

Put a “gratitude jar” somewhere in your home.

Every time you are happy or grateful about something, no matter how small, write it down on a piece of paper and place it in the jar. When it’s full, empty it out and read through what brought you joy. Chances are, you wouldn’t remember many of these small magic moments without this reminder.

Make eye contact and smile.

To demonstrate the effect a smile can have on those around you, Achor led an exercise from the podium. He asked everyone in the audience to find a partner, then instructed the first person to stare stonily at the other. The second person was instructed to make eye contact with their angry-looking partner and smile brightly and warmly. After just seven seconds, most of the room – including those who had been instructed to keep a straight face – were laughing together.

“Eighty to 85 percent of people worldwide cannot control themselves for the seven seconds of this experiment,” said Achor. “When we see others smile, our brains drop a neurochemical many of you may know called dopamine, which raises our happiness levels and causes us to smile involuntarily.”

Connect with others.

Modern society tells us that other people’s happiness comes at the expense of our own, but the truth is that it is hard to be happy in a vacuum. The only way to achieve true happiness is to connect with the people around us, and to celebrate their successes as our own.

To learn more about how HighTower helps advisors find new and creative ways to connect with clients and potential clients, email us at

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