TEDx Talk: The Happy Secret to Better Work

 

In one of the most widely watched TED Talks ever, psychologist Shawn Achor makes the case that more than anything, it is happiness which makes us more productive. Today, Ignitia recaps the key points of Mr. Achor’s legendary talk.

We Can Be Better Than Average

In his video Mr. Achor begins by relating what he describes as, Positive Psychology. According to Mr. Achor, what Positive Psycholgy posits is that if we study only the average we will remain only average. What excites Mr. Achor most are the outliers which rise high above average. By studying these positive outliers Mr. Achor believes we can eventually move the entire average up to greater heights.

The Lens Through Which We View the World Matters

According to Mr. Achor, when we turn on the news, we are likely to see mostly negative news stories. In viewing the world through this lens, we begin to assume this is the normal state of the world. What Mr. Achor suggests is that it is not reality which shapes us, but instead it is the lens through which we views the world which shapes our reality. According to Mr. Achor, if we can change that lens we can not only can we change our happines, but we can also change every single business and educational outcome in our lives as well.

Mr. Achor then relates a story about when he was accepted to Harvard University. According to Mr. Achor what he found was that while many students were initially thrilled by the privelidge of being accepted to Harvard, within two weeks of starting class, they almost all lost this feeling in the face of the stresses classes. To further examine this point, Mr. Achor relates how when friends from other schools would visit him and see how nice the dining halls were, they would almost always ask, ‘What does a Harvard student possibly have to be unhappy about?’ According to Mr. Achor embedded within that questions is the key to understanding the science of happiness.

Happiness is Not About the External World

According to Mr. Achor, what the above question assumes is that our external world is predictive of our happiness level. According to Mr. Achor, even if we were to know everything about a person’s external world it would still only possible to predict 10% of that person’s long-term happiness. According to Mr. Achor, this is because 90% of a person’s long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by how the person processes the world. As such, if we can change our formula for happiness and success we can change the way we affect reality.

The Need to Reverse Our Formula For Happiness and Success

Mr. Achor then relates that according to his research, only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. 75% of job success is predicted by a person’s optimism level, their social support, and their ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat. Mr. Achor then relates a time he was asked to consult a prestigious boarding school in New England. According to Mr. Achor, in an effort to produce more happiness in their students, the boarding school was conducting a ‘Wellness Week’ where each night of the week a new health topic would be discussed. The topics being covered were adolescent depression, school violence and bullying, eating disorders, illicit drug use, and risky sex. According to Mr. Achor, this was not a wellness week – it was a sickness week. The school had outlined all negatives, and no positives. According to Mr. Achor, the absence of disease is not health and the way to get to health is by reversing the formula for happiness and success.

According to Mr. Achor, most companies and schools follow a formula for success which says, ‘If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, I’ll be happier.’ According to Mr. Achor, this idea presently undergirds most of our parenting, coaching, and management styles. However, the problem with this thinking is that it’s scientifically broken and backwards. In thinking this way, every time we experience success, our minds change the goalpost of what success looks like. Every time we have a success, we then want greater success. According to Mr. Achor, if we view the world this way, and we believe happiness is on the other side of success, we will never get to where we want.

The Key to More Happiness and Success

According to Mr. Achor, our brains work in the reverse of this thinking. According to Mr. Achor, if we can raise our level of positivity in the present moment, then our brain will experience what he calls a, ‘Happiness Advantage’. This means that our mind in a positive state performs significantly better than it does in a negative, neutral, or stressed state. According to Mr. Achor, when our minds are in a positive state, our intelligence rises, our creativity rises, our energy levels rise, and every single business outcome improves. To back up these statements, Mr. Achor states that according to his research, when a person’s mind is in a positive state he has found they are 31% more productive than a person in a negative, neutral, or stressed state. Mr. Achor then continues to offer his team’s research which shows that when in a positive state, people are 37% better at sales, and doctors are 19% faster at coming up with the correct diagnosis. In a business sense, this means if we are in a positive state, we will be better at securing better jobs, be better at keeping those jobs, have superior productivity, be more resilient, experience less burnout, see less turnover, and experience greater sales.

According to Mr. Achor, if we can find a way of becoming positive in the present moment, our minds will be able to work more successfully and in turn we will work harder, faster, and more intelligently. If we can maintain this state we will then be able to begin to see what are brains are truly capable of. According to Mr. Achor, this is because the dopamine which floods into our system when we’re positive, has two functions: not only does it make us happier, but it also turns on the learning centers in the brain which allow us to adapt to the world in new and different ways.

Five Scientifically Proven Ways to be Happier

According to Mr. Achor, in order to achieve this it is possible to train our minds to be happier. According to Mr. Achor, by taking just two minutes to exercise for twenty-one days in a row, we can actually re-wire our brains to work more optimistically and more successfully. The first way to do this is to spend two minutes a day writing down three new things we are grateful for, for twenty-one days in a row. According to Mr. Achor, this practice re-wires our brains to scan the world for positive instead of negative. The second exercise is to journal for two minutes a day about a positive experience had over the past 24 hours. According to Mr. Achor, this allows our minds to relive that positive experience and makes us happier. The third was is the exercise. According to Mr. Achor, exercising floods our brains with dopamine and teaches us that our behaviors matter. The forth way is to meditate. Meditation allows us to focus on a task at hand and allows us to be present. And finally, the fifth way is to practice random acts of kindness. This can be done by simply writing an email a day to someone in our social support network which praises and thanks them for what they do for us. According to Mr. Achor, by doing any of these activities for two minutes a day for 21 days in a row, we will be training our brains, not only to reverse our formula for happiness and success, but to also create a ripples of positivity that can lead to a happiness revolution as well.

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