Shawn Achor, CEO of consulting firm Good Think and best-selling author, is one of the world's leading experts on happiness and success. In his TED talk, Achor reveals our backward understanding of how to achieve happiness, based on his research in the field of positive psychology. (Hint: Success doesn't lead to happiness — it's the other way around.) As we prepare for Thanksgiving, a holiday defined by gratitude, Achor's lessons on positivity and practicing appreciation for the present will serve business leaders and employees well at both the office and home.
Watch the video below and read on for three key takeaways from his talk.
"If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average."
Achor shares that one of the principles of academic research — whether it's economics, education, medicine, business or psychology — is to eliminate the outliers (in a statistically valid way, of course). In most research, the goal is to focus on the "average": How fast does the average child learn to read? How many Advil pills should the average person take?
Positive psychology, on the other hand, proposes that if we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average. Instead of eliminating the outliers, Achor is interesting in studying the outliers to discover why certain people exist outside of the curve — intellectually, athletically, musically, emotionally, etc. By studying the outliers, Achor believes we can glean information about how to improve the average.
"We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success."
What has Achor discovered by studying the outliers? It's not reality that shapes us, but our perception that shapes our reality. Studies show that the external factors of your life can only predict 10 percent of your long-term happiness; whereas how you perceive the world can predict 90 percent.
Why is this? Every time we get a good grade, job or award, our brain changes our definition of success to better grades, a better job or a better award. Success is elusive, as Achor explains, which makes achieving happiness from our successes elusive, too: "If happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there." The key to happiness is not changing external factors, but changing the way we process external factors.
"You can train your brain to be able to become more positive."
According to Achor, if we can find a way to become more positive in the present, our brains will experience a "happiness advantage." A positive brain is 31 percent more productive than a negative, neutral or stressed brain, and our energy, intelligence and creativity levels all rise when we're in a positive mindset. In other words, happiness actually leads to greater success.
But can you actually increase your positivity? Yes, Achor says, adding that in just a two-minute span of time over 21 days in a row, you can rewire your brain to work more optimistically and successfully. For example, by writing three new things you are grateful for every day for 21 days, your brain will begin to retain a pattern of scanning the world for the positive instead of the negative. Other tactics Achor has studied include journaling about positive experiences, meditation and writing thank-you notes.
By reversing the formula for happiness and success, Achor says, we can not only increase individual happiness, but also create ripples of positivity and productivity throughout organizations.
Photo: Creative Commons
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