Oprah's happiness guru shares advice for life

David Heitz

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Oprah has branded herself not only the queen of talk, but a master of personal growth.

So, who better than Oprah’s happiness guru to ask for transformational tips for happiness?

I interviewed Shawn Achor a few years ago. I asked him how people who are struggling to stay positive can turn things around.

Achor is a Harvard happiness researcher and author of the book “The Happiness Advantage.” Here are some tips for life I gleaned from interviewing Achor.

View anger as your friend

“Instead of squashing the anger, think about it as a useful tool,” Achor said.

“I suffered two years of depression,” Achor said. “So many people think of those who are depressed as evil, dark, brooding. But the brain actually takes more thought to process anger and threat than to create happiness.”

So, go ahead. Be angry.

“If you’re angry, your body is experiencing a feeling or emotion that easily can be translated into energy. Squashing anger actually can be counterproductive. If you feel upset, try to channel that toward a positive or productive outcome.”

Take action to change whatever is upsetting you.

“The opposite of happiness in our research is not unhappiness. If we’re lonely, (anger) can actually cause us to extrovert.”

Stay connected

A good predictor of long-term happiness are our social connections.

“Researchers at Harvard demonstrated a .7 correlation between social connections and happiness, which may not sound like much” but that’s a higher correlation than what we see between smoking and cancer, Achor said.

You may say, “Social connections?” We’re stuck in the house during COVID-19 lockdown. We never get out.

But we don’t have to leave our homes to have meaningful social connection. Research shows that a meaningful social connection can be as simple as an email, text, or five-minute phone call.

“Some people go and see 100 people at a bar, but it has no meaning,” Achor said. “But deeply connecting to someone you have provided care for does.”

'Instead of thinking about what you’re giving up, turn that around'

“Instead of letting your whole life become deficit thinking, and focusing on things you’re not doing anymore, there is real power in seeing things you’re picking up,” Achor said.

Don’t let any one thing define you

You are the whole of many unique personality traits.

I always have allowed my work to define me, for better or for worse. Many Americans are that way.

When I was drinking, I didn’t show up for days on end. While my work always passed muster, I knew I wasn’t performing at even one-tenth of my ability.

When I didn’t feel good about my work, I didn’t feel good about myself.

Do what you must to maintain your self-respect

Self-respect and good health are two things I never had when I was the town drunk. I spent each day feeling horrible about the dumb things I did the day before.

So, I drank to forget about it. It was an endless cycle.

In November 2010, I quit my job at the local newspaper. For three years, I tried to focus on caring full-time for my dad. But don’t kid yourself. I was drinking too.

But as I saw him decline and realized he needed my help, I had purpose in life.

Having purpose planted a seed for quitting drinking. Suddenly life was about something bigger than me, as they talk about in AA.

And I felt good about taking care of my dad.

Consider giving up alcohol if you think you have a problem

I thought, “If I quit drinking, how much better could things be?”

I was ready to quit. And after getting hammered and making a fool of myself in front of my neighbors and on social media Memorial Day 2014, I was ready to accept that booze and I did not mix.

Alcohol was destroying my life and making me physically sick. The doctor said I was developing a dangerous condition called pancreatitis.

So, to AA I went. A week went by without booze. Two weeks. A month.

I still don’t drink to this day. I am in excellent physical health.

Work hard to change your thinking to the positive. If you start each morning with prayer or meditation, or even list just three positive things about the past 24 hours, you can’t help but feel better about life.

Make friends with yourself

The support you get from others when you’re trying to stay positive – friends on Facebook, professional contacts – is helpful.

But you can’t expect encouragement every day. Sometimes positive life changes require leaving old friends behind. Even when those relationships were unhealthy, a void exists when they're gone.

I left old crowds behind several years ago.

I have made friends with myself.

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I have been in the news business more than 30 years, spending much of my career at some of the best newspapers in the country. Today, I specialize in Denver local news, health reporting, social justice issues, addiction/recovery/mental health news, and topics surrounding homelessness and human trafficking.

Denver, CO
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