Editor’s note: This is a chapter from the new book for returned missionaries: Live Your Mission, 21 Powerful Principles to Discover Your Life Mission, After Your Mission, by Andrew Scot Proctor. Click here to read the the whole book for free on Kindle Unlimited!
I had just eaten lunch at the campus cafeteria at Southern Virginia University when I got a call (on a landline phone) from the school post office. The receptionist said in a very heavy southern Virginia accent, “You gotta a big white envelope here that you might want to come pick up.” It was my mission call. I had been waiting for weeks for this. I ran down to the post office as fast as my track star feet could carry me and grabbed the envelope. This was a moment I had been waiting for all my life. Inside this envelope awaited an assignment from a prophet of God that could take me anywhere on Earth! I had an a capella concert to sing in that night and a philosophy final the next morning at 7:00 am to prepare for. I didn’t have time to try to contact all my family and friends that night before my concert and my last final exam as a freshman. I decided to wait. I slipped my mission call into my desk drawer with a huge smile on my face and a sense of life-satisfaction that I had never experienced in my whole life. I studied for a few hours, sang my little heart out in the concert and then studied a little more. As I studied, it was as if I had an added ability to memorize all these philosophical proofs from Plato to Anselm to Aquinas to Aristotle. It was as if my brain were on fire! I don’t know if I had ever had as good of a study session as I did that night. I went to bed with excitement in my heart and philosophy in my mind. I woke up early the next morning to make it to my 7:00 am philosophy final. My brain recalled perfectly every single one of the theorems and proofs and concepts of each and every philosopher the entire semester as if it were a game. I aced my final and left the room with a big smile on my face. I was one happy nineteen-year-old.
The point of this story isn’t to brag about my ability to memorize philosophical proofs but to point out that my brain was aided by the fact that I was so happy. I believe I actually got a better grade on my final because of the incredible amount of positive emotion I was experiencing. I also believe that if I would have waited until after my philosophy final was over to soak in the happiness of the fact that I had received my mission call (because I hadn’t even opened it yet), I would have gotten a less than optimal score. This cognitive effect is what positive psychologists call “the happiness advantage.”
One of the most impressive evangelists of the happiness advantage is Shawn Achor, a young Harvard professor who has written a book about this phenomenon. Here’s Shawn:
New research in psychology and neuroscience shows that . . . we become more successful when we are happier and more positive. For example, doctors put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster. Optimistic salespeople outsell their counterparts by 56 percent. Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers. It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive [1. The Happiness Advantage, p. 15].
My whole life, I have been taught the exact opposite: wait until you are successful, then be happy.
Once I graduate, then I can be happy.
Once I get into grad school, then I can be happy.
Once I find a girlfriend (or boyfriend), then I’ll be happy.
As soon as I finish my book, then I can be happy.
As soon as I get that great job, then I can be happy.
Once I finish my paper, then I will be happy.
Once I’m done with my project, then I can be happy.
I have always thought this way until I read about the happiness advantage. The extra creativity, cognitive ability and innovation that we need to accomplish these things and to be successful could be acquired if we allow ourselves to be happy before we hit the milestones. Positive emotion may very well be the added edge we need to push ourselves to the top!
It’s not just theoretical or hypothetical either; it’s actually biological. Happiness gives us a real-life chemical edge. How does it do this? Here is Shawn again:
Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good but dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. They help us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem-solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things. [2. The Happiness Advantage, p. 44]
This happiness advantage will accelerate your brain as you are trying to figure out your mission in life. So don’t just think that you can only be happy once you have figured out what to do with your life. Or that you will only be able to really relax once you are on the right track. This thinking is actually counterproductive. What makes you happy right now? What brings a smile to your face? Where do you feel like you can just play and relax? What activities make you glad to be alive? How often do you laugh? How often do you play? How much everyday happiness do you experience? If it’s not a lot, you should create more. Everyday happiness creates the positive emotion you need to give you the advantage.
Create more positive emotion in your life, and you will be given the happiness advantage to push you toward the discovery of your personal mission. And once you discover your mission, use the happiness advantage to make you even more effective and productive in accomplishing your life mission!
Be happy now. Don’t wait until you have everything figured out. Being happy now will give you the happiness advantage, propelling you toward your greatest potential in living your mission.
***If you liked this chapter, please click here to read the whole book for free with Kindle Unlimited!