"Our brains become whatever we practice," he says. "If we can find some way of helping people become more positive… it takes the cap off our potential for happiness but also human potential at every level—our creativity, our energy levels, our resilience."
By doing at least one of these five simple habits—most of which take less than two minutes—for 21 days in a row, you can develop a sense of optimism and happiness, Achor says.
Write down three new things you are grateful for each day and be specific about why you are grateful for them. If you simply say you're grateful for work, family, and health the habit won't have an effect. But Achor says, "If I say I'm grateful for my son Leo, he gave me a hug last night which means I'm worth love," that will raise optimism levels.
After employees at American Express implemented this habit for 21 days, Achor found that by day 22, those who originally tested as low-level pessimists began testing as low-level optimists.
Think of one positive experience you had over the past 24-hours and write four details about that experience. This helps your brain stamp the memory as meaningful and allows it to relive the positive experience a second time.
"This is the fastest and cheapest intervention we've found for raising engagement scores at companies worldwide," Achor says. Expressive writing, such as this can affect health outcomes, as well. Achor says research has found that when patients with chronic neuromuscular disease engaged in expressive writing, they were able to decrease the use of pain medication sometimes by as much as 50%.
Do an enjoyable cardio-activity for 15 minutes. Achor says your brain records exercise as a victory and this feeling of accomplishment transfers to other tasks throughout the day. "People who exercise for 15 minutes a day in the morning, even briskly walking a dog, are better at dealing with their inbox in the middle of the day," he says.
While at work, take your hands off the keyboard once a day and pay attention to your breath going in and out for two minutes, Achor suggests. When Google employees did this exercise, the company saw significant results.
"21 days later, their accuracy rates improved by 10%, their levels of happiness rose, and their engagement scores rose significantly," he says. Though the perks of free food and exercise equipment may attract employees to work there, that's not what keeps them at Google for the long haul.
"Once they're there, [the external environment] doesn't sustain engagement after the first six weeks," Achor says. "What they find sustains engagement better than anything is their mindfulness training."
5.Conscious Act of Kindness
Take two minutes to write an email, praising or thanking one person you know. Much like the gratitude exercise, it must be a different person each day and the email must be authentic and specific about why you appreciate them.
"Social connection is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness we have," he says. "It trumps everything else we do."
And, as an added bonus, you'll get "people writing back about how great they think you are," Achor says.
I encourage you to celebrate Nurses Week by starting one of these habits on May 6 and continuing it for 21 days, as Achor recommends. Make it a happy Nurses Week by become a happy nurse.
Jennifer Thew, RN, is the senior nursing editor at HealthLeaders.