20 in 2020: Happier Hour with Einstein

Happier Header20 books worth talking about (in Rich Gassen’s opinion)

My book suggestion for this week is actually a group of materials by Dr. Melissa Hughes, Ph.D. She has written two books on neuroscience and how it affects the brain: Happy Hour with Einstein and Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round. Having worked with learners from the classroom to the boardroom, Hughes has spent the better part of her career understanding how the brain works and how to make it work better as we teach, learn, create, and communicate in today’s hectic workplace. With deep roots in education, she shares practical applications of neuroscience that enhances cognition and enables greater creativity, more effective collaboration strategies, and a more engaged workforce – all of which contribute to the culture essential for organizational success and personal satisfaction.

“Life’s too short to put your keys to happiness in someone else’s pocket.”
~Melissa Hughes

Here’s the official write-up of Happier Hour with Einstein: Another Round

HappierFor centuries, we’ve grappled with the meaning of intelligence and the best way to measure it. We now know that intelligence is not fixed and each of us can increase intellectual capacity. Over the last few decades, advances in technology and neuroscience have illuminated fascinating discoveries about how the brain works and our capacity for learning, decision-making, problem-solving, communication and creativity.

Scientists can now peek inside the brain as we to observe what factors influence the way we learn, process emotions, make decisions, and interact with others. Explore the amazing human brain and discover the neuroscience and behavioral psychology of stress, optimism, gratitude, mindset, and unconscious biases that influence our personal and professional lives and shape the mental models we construct of the world. From employee engagement and organizational culture to goal-setting and procrastination to relationships with others, Dr. Hughes mines recent brain-based research to deliver simple, applicable strategies that improve performance and outcomes in our professional and personal lives.

> Why are gritty people better able to navigate through uncertainty?
> Why do we make irrational decisions when we’re tired?
> How does unconscious biases influence team dynamics?
> Why are optimists more successful than pessimists?
> How can failure and mistakes make us smarter?
> What is the optimal state of consciousness?
> Why does rejection hurt so much?
> Why does laughter feel so good?

Dr. Hughes delivers the answers to these questions and more as she explains in “plain speak” how the brain works and how to make it work better for a smarter, healthier, happier you!

“The mind that opens to a new idea never returns to its original size.”
~Albert Einstein

HappyHer earlier version, Happy Hour, is not currently in print but can be found online. That book started the conversation about advances in neuroscience which have illuminated important discoveries about our capacity for learning, problem-solving, creativity, success, and happiness. Happy Hour with Einstein won’t get you a degree in neuroscience, but it will share recent research about how the brain functions and those factors which impact cognition, creativity, and memory with practical strategies for a smarter, happier YOU! Melissa got a lot of reqests for more, so that is where Happier comes in! See this video from her about the release of the second edition:


Gratitude JournalHughes also publishes a Gratitude Journal to complement these two books. I was fortunate enough to purchase all three a while back, and used my journal during a surgery recovery where I had a lot of down time and introspection going on. Just logging my thoughts during that difficult time was of great help to keep my spirits up and move toward healing. No matter how you choose to use this wonderful resource, it will benefit you and build upon your happiness and gratitude.


Melissa has an uncanny way of speaking to the common person about highly technical things, in a way that makes sense. I really enjoyed diving into the neuroscience behind dopamine and cortisol, and getting a better understanding of the way I act and react in work and personal situations. You can actually change your mood by reframing toward gratitude in not-so-pleasant situations with some tips she gives.

In Happy, I really enjoyed the knowledge she shared about doodling and sketch notes (Chapter 4), as I am an artist and constantly scribbling during meetings or on my to-do lists. Sketch notes can help you brainstorm, can get people on the same page about an idea or concept, and can open the mind up to new ideas as you become more creative with the pen in your hand. Hughes states: “Drawing information enables the brain to switch to free-flow mode and break from constrictive habits of thinking. Brainstorming, innovation, and troubleshooting all require creative thinking processes. When we can break free from habitual patterns of thought, new ideas will emerge.”

Practice Positivity

Melissa also talks at lenght about gratitude and positivity in her books. I am all about these concepts as I grow older, and really appreciated her spin on this topic. “Studies show that when we demonstrate positivity through kindness, the brain produces happy chemicals that make us feel more optimistic and in control of our lives compared to the learned helplessness that comes from an overproduction of stress-fighting chemicals. Random acts of kindness, for example, release oxytocin. In addition to making us feel more socially connected and loved, Oxytocin actually reduces stress and lowers blood pressure. If you want an extra shot of happy chemicals, send a handwritten note instead of an email. Email is the norm these days, and the surprise of a hand written note will intensify the positive emotions of the receiver simply because it’s unexpected.”

Nailed it, Dr. Hughes!! I have been doing this for some time now and promote thank you cards in the community of practice I am involved in at UW-Madison. We give them away at all of our events so managers will start using them with staff. I also can attest that when I receive a note from someone, there is a high that I feel. But did you know you also get that high from SENDING a note of gratitude? Reflecting on the positives in your life is actually healthy, says Hughes.

Screen Shot 2020-02-11 at 7.04.03 AMPrimed for Happiness

Happier Hour brings more of the same: detailed accounts of how your dopamine and cortisol will affect your performance and ability to thrive in the workplace or in your personal relationships. My favorite subject was called Priming. “Priming is an unconscious process where exposure to one stimulus influences the reaction to a subsequent one. Without conscious awareness, the brain makes representations or associations that often shape our thoughts or actions. The power of priming is not new. Vance Packard’s groundbreaking work, The Hidden Persuaders published in 1957, explored the psychological and subliminal techniques used in advertising. Since then, we have a wealth of research illuminating how unconscious processes such as priming influence thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. And, brand marketers are putting this research to work. For example, Apple has masterfully cultivated a brand personality synonymous with nonconformity and creativity. Researchers found that priming people with an Apple logo made them think more creatively in a simple task on ‘unusual uses for a brick,’ while people primed with an IBM logo produced less creative results. The same study found that people primed with the Disney logo behaved more honestly than those primed with the E! logo. (If this kind of stuff geeks you out, you can find the study here.)” Priming is the act of putting yourself in the correct mindset; if you think about being grumpy all of the time, you’re likely going to have a bad day, but if you decide to be happy, things will probably go better for you. This follow’s Carol Dweck’s concepts of Mindset.

smilies-1920x1200-yellow-3d-hd-4k-3484Don’t believe me yet about these ideas? Check out all 178 videos (holy cow!!) Melissa has created on YouTube. From bias in the workplace to being motivated intrinsically, she has it all covered. You’ll be a neuro-geek in no time!

I highly recommend Melissa’s books, and think you should subscribe to Melissa’s Neuro-Nugget podcasts: short updates on all kinds of brain-related mayhem. As she says so eloquently, knowing more about “that 3 pound squishy thing in your head” can’t hurt.

Meet Melissa!

I am going to get to meet Melissa next month at the NLV Conference in Chicago, and can’t wait to hear more from her in person about the nuggets of the mind. She’ll be there along with many other great minds. You should join us! There’s still a short time to register for this great event.

In closing, I suggest you check out her latest post online about being in awe. “Consciously look for novelty, for beauty, for things that you’ve never noticed before in familiar places. Open your mind to the sights, the sounds, the smells.  Train yourself to see things the way a child discovers things for the first time.” I am taking her advice to heart, and I am constantly in awe of her posts and online activity, and so thankful to have her in my tribe.

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