How does happiness work?

How much is it determined by the mindset we decide to adopt? According to the Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, it depends almost entirely on it. Author of Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, Dweck deeply investigates the power of our beliefs, both conscious and unconscious, and how changing even the simplest of them can have profound impact on nearly every aspect of our lives.

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As shown in this infograph, in Dweck’s analysis there are two main types of mindsets: fixed, and growth. A fixed mindset is usually static, risk-averse, avoids challenges and eventually achieves less than its full potential. A growth mindset, on the other hand, embraces risk as an opportunity to grow, learns from mistakes and builds up on them, and eventually achieves more than its potential.

These characteristics tend to show up early in childhood, and determine our behaviour, the way we deal with relationships, success and failures, and at last our capacity for happiness.

Dweck, as reported in a post on Brain Pickings, quotes a seventh-grade girl:

I think intelligence is something you have to work for, it isn’t just given to you. Most kids, if they’re not sure of an answer, will not raise their hand to answer the question. But what I usually do is raise my hand, because if I’m wrong, then my mistake will be corrected [and I’ll learn from it].

This approach is crucial in education. Students – either at school, or at university – will learn much less if they are (or are encouraged to become) entangled in a static mindset, that does not shift them from the status quo. Going out from one’s comfort zone, then, is the key for growth. With the words of the Russian novelist Lev Tolstoj:If you want to be happy, be.

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