First comes success … then comes happiness, right? Harvard psychologist, Shawn Achor says you may have it all backwards. At the Executive Performance Summit, sponsored by TD Wealth, Kim Parlee sits down with the author of the Happiness Advantage in a MoneyTalk exclusive interview.
00:00:05.844 I'm here at the Executive Performance Summit sponsored by TD Wealth,
00:00:09.710 and we're going to talk a bit about happiness.
00:00:12.210 Shawn Achor is one of the world's leading experts on happiness and success.
00:00:17.770 He has one of the TED Talks, one of the most popular in the world-- over 13 million
00:00:22.940 He's written two books, both New York Times bestsellers,
00:00:25.570 one called The Happiness Advantage.
00:00:27.570 The other one is called Before Happiness, and he posits that happiness is an advantage.
00:00:33.220 In Money Talk Exclusive, here's that conversation.
00:00:36.620 So let's talk a bit about what you're going to be talking about today, the happiness
00:00:42.130 What is the happiness advantage?
00:00:44.090 So what we found is when the human brain is positive,
00:00:47.240 every single business and educational outcome improves dramatically,
00:00:50.590 and many of our health outcomes, as well.
00:00:52.780 So it seems as if the brain is designed to work best at positive.
00:00:56.660 But we mostly work it out at negative, neutral, or stressed when we're at work.
00:01:00.720 So if we can find some way in the middle of challenges, in the middle of high workloads
00:01:05.519 and high levels of stress, of shifting the brain just even slightly positive,
00:01:09.690 all of our success rates rise dramatically.
00:01:11.710 So what we found out is that the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy
00:01:16.240 is actually a positive and engaged brain.
00:01:18.800 I want to talk a bit about how we do that, because you have some tips on that.
00:01:22.050 But I want to go back to-- your TED Talk has been
00:01:24.830 seen by millions and millions of people.
00:01:26.710 And you talk about the unicorn.
00:01:28.474 Can you tell me the unicorn story?
00:01:29.890 [CHUCKLES] In brief, I have a sister who's two years younger than me,
00:01:33.070 and we were playing on top of a bunk bed.
00:01:34.990 And at one point, she fell off the bunk bed.
00:01:37.510 Neither of us remember how it happened.
00:01:39.520 But she was about to scream and cry.
00:01:41.379 And I was about to get in a lot of trouble.
00:01:43.170 My parents were napping.
00:01:44.390 And so I panicked and said, Amy, no human falls like you did.
00:01:52.070 You must be a unicorn.
00:01:53.460 And she stopped crying, and a smile spread across her face.
00:01:56.660 And she bounded right back up onto the bunk bed to keep playing.
00:01:59.340 And what it taught me from just such a young age-- you know, my dad's a neuroscientist.
00:02:04.060 So I grew up with studying the brain in the household and research.
00:02:08.000 And so when I paired that story together with what I do now in positive psychology, what
00:02:12.960 I realized was, our brains are limited.
00:02:14.799 We only have a limited amount of resources to experience the world.
00:02:17.590 So if our brain looks at the negative, it's scanning for the pain
00:02:21.190 and the suffering, that's all your brain sees.
00:02:23.150 But if you change the way that somebody thinks about themself,
00:02:25.960 you can actually change the response that they have to the world.
00:02:28.900 So if we can get people to feel more positive or feel like they have strengths
00:02:33.030 or that their behavior matters, you can get people
00:02:35.280 to create these inflection points in their life
00:02:37.238 and change how they invest money, change the way that they invest in their kids,
00:02:42.280 change the way that they teach kids in a school.
00:02:44.300 So that's-- I got very excited about it ever since.
00:02:47.430 Everyone just needs to be a unicorn.
00:02:48.930 You've spoken-- I've lost count of the number of countries you've been to,
00:02:53.192 speaking to different people.
00:02:54.400 And it's people in some very dire circumstances that were happening.
00:02:58.637 So tell me a bit about some of the more memorable trips you've made in terms of,
00:03:01.970 like, you'd almost question, well, why are you happy,
00:03:04.178 given what's going on here right now?
00:03:05.770 I was surprised.
00:03:06.730 Because-- well, I got into this research studying at Harvard.
00:03:09.400 And I thought growing up in a small town in Texas, you get to go to Harvard,
00:03:13.900 you must be happy for the rest of your life, and then discovered that 80% of the students
00:03:17.840 were going through depression.
00:03:19.200 And what I started to realize was that the external world wasn't a good predictor
00:03:22.630 of people's happiness levels.
00:03:24.210 After that I've traveled to more than 50 countries, and I go to places like Zimbabwe
00:03:27.790 where we can talk about economic and political problems here in the US
00:03:31.210 or in Canada or in the world.
00:03:33.410 In Zimbabwe, I talked to farmers who lost their lands.
00:03:38.390 They were pushing around their currency in wheelbarrows because the currency collapsed.
00:03:42.340 These are the trillionaires, right?
00:03:43.660 They asked me if I had talked to any billionaires.
00:03:46.551 The trillionaires-- they were all trillionaires.
00:03:48.550 Many of them were, but it wasn't worth anything, their money.
00:03:51.480 And what we found was that they could still have high levels of happiness
00:03:54.950 if they still had social connection.
00:03:56.450 And so what we started to realize was-- I'd go to these schools in South Africa.
00:04:00.870 They'd have dirt floors and no books, and the kids would be smiling and happy and engaged.
00:04:05.872 And if they had a book, they would all get around and read it together.
00:04:08.830 And then I'd go to the States, and I would go travel in the West and in Europe.
00:04:12.610 And people would have so much, but they felt entitled to it.
00:04:16.459 Or they didn't realize what they had.
00:04:18.180 And so what we started doing as we researched them--
00:04:20.610 and there's some fantastic researchers who have studied this-- that only 10%
00:04:24.010 of our long-term happiness was predicted based upon the external world.
00:04:27.690 So we brought all that external information together-- how much money you have,
00:04:31.480 where in the world you live, what your position is.
00:04:33.960 It only predicted 10% of long-term happiness.
00:04:36.150 90% of our long-term happiness was about how the brain was
00:04:39.339 processing the world you found yourself in.
00:04:41.130 How do you process that one book you have?
00:04:43.320 How do you process the million toys you have?
00:04:46.130 And if we could change somebody's lens, we could
00:04:48.810 get them to actually be able to choose happiness
00:04:51.000 and find that wherever they are in the world.
00:04:53.760 So what's great is, we're learning from so many different types of people that
00:04:57.480 define happiness in such different ways.
00:04:59.260 But together, I think we're being able to discover ways
00:05:02.500 that we can move people forward.
00:05:05.070 The idea that 90% of your happiness is generated internally, if you will,
00:05:09.170 figuring that it is fascinating.
00:05:10.820 And, what's equally interesting, I think, is a lot of what
00:05:14.596 you're talking about is if you're happy, you therefore are more productive.
00:05:17.720 I think happy in itself was probably the good end goal to begin with.
00:05:20.595 But anyway, how do you do it?
00:05:21.872 I mean, I understand what you're saying, that the external stuff really
00:05:24.830 doesn't matter at the end of the day, or it doesn't matter much.
00:05:27.540 How do I actually become more happy?
00:05:29.400 Well, first of all, I agree with you.
00:05:30.540 I think happiness is both the means and the end.
00:05:32.620 I think it is the fuel that causes us to change and pursue our potential.
00:05:36.195 But it's also where we want people to get to.
00:05:38.070 It's the state of happiness that's not just pleasure.
00:05:40.710 It's the joy we feel moving towards our potential.
00:05:42.990 And I think the way we get there is twofold.
00:05:45.170 I think we need to have a mindset change, and then a behavior change.
00:05:48.480 The mindset change is we need to realize that happiness is actually important now.
00:05:52.120 We oftentimes think, if I work harder, I'll be more successful.
00:05:54.786 Then I'll be happier.
00:05:55.660 So once we solve all these problems, then I'll feel happier.
00:05:58.240 Once I change all these things the world, then I can feel happier.
00:06:01.160 But if we do so, every time we are successful,
00:06:05.375 we just change what success looks like.
00:06:07.000 So happiness keeps getting pushed out further and further.
00:06:09.570 And we're missing out on the value of happiness now.
00:06:12.230 What we can do in the present is we can practice gratitude.
00:06:15.190 We can deepen our social connection.
00:06:16.690 We can change the way we view stress.
00:06:18.470 And it causes all those.
00:06:19.470 So one of the best ways-- so let me tell you two of them that I love.
00:06:22.720 One of them is, two researchers, Emmons and McCullough,
00:06:26.080 looked at the impact of gratitude.
00:06:27.970 So for 21 days in a row they had people, every day in the morning,
00:06:31.210 think of three new things that they were grateful for.
00:06:33.520 So everyone knows gratitude is good for you, but we don't practice it the right way.
00:06:36.460 This is the happiness hygiene you were talking about.
00:06:39.210 So we brush our teeth every day.
00:06:40.570 So while you're brushing your teeth, think of three new things
00:06:43.379 that have occurred over the past 24 hours that you're grateful for.
00:06:46.170 And not just the what, it's the why of why you're grateful for it.
00:06:49.550 So I'm not just grateful for my son, I'm grateful for my son
00:06:52.420 because he gave me a hug yesterday.
00:06:53.900 It means I'm loved regardless.
00:06:55.151 Do this for 21 days in a row, you get 63 unique things you're grateful for.
00:06:58.274 But the real value is as you go through the rest of your day,
00:07:01.180 your brain devotes a few resources, like a background app,
00:07:03.801 scanning the world for the things you're grateful for,
00:07:06.050 even in the midst of looking for the threats.
00:07:07.924 What happens is you're able to see all these things that are positive.
00:07:12.040 But the real value is 21 days later, people who were testing as low-level pessimists
00:07:15.940 are now testing as low-level optimists as a default.
00:07:18.580 So their default has actually changed towards optimism.
00:07:20.990 Six months later, the pattern actually continues if you do it.
00:07:23.740 So what we discovered is gratitude is good because it actually turns your brain
00:07:28.200 into a rational optimistic machine.
00:07:31.300 The other way we did this was we got people every morning to do an outward activity.
00:07:34.922 So gratitude is inward.
00:07:35.880 Outward is we had them write a two-minute positive email each morning
00:07:38.840 to a different person for 21 days in a row.
00:07:40.632 And if you do this-- you just praise them or thank them for one thing
00:07:43.506 you've done, text message or email-- you get great emails back, which is really fun.
00:07:47.160 But 21 days later, if you do this, your social connection
00:07:51.156 score-- the breadth, depth, and meaning in your social relationship--
00:07:54.030 is in the top quartile, which matters because social connection is
00:07:57.360 the greatest predictor of happiness we have.
00:07:59.530 And it's as predictive of how long we live as obesity, high blood pressure, and smoking.
00:08:03.770 So get somebody to be able to create social connection by doing a positive email
00:08:08.020 outward, turns a soul-draining task like email
00:08:10.640 into something that's life-giving, but in doing so raises the greatest
00:08:13.716 predictor of long-term happiness.
00:08:15.090 So these show that two minutes a day could actually transform
00:08:18.329 the way that we experience the world.
00:08:19.870 Because we think of optimism as genetic, right?
00:08:22.390 But it turns out, we do these simple two-minute habits,
00:08:25.450 we can actually break the tyranny of our genes and environment over our happiness.
00:08:28.960 I was, I think, watching a piece that you did when you were talking
00:08:32.049 to some folks at Google, I think, recently.
00:08:34.169 And talking about kind of understanding how the external
00:08:36.539 doesn't satisfy you kind of thing.
00:08:37.955 And you talked about how this woman said, you should just be in constant ecstasy.
00:08:41.530 You've been working at Google.
00:08:42.909 And then she complained about the long line at the sushi line.
00:08:45.840 So it's just so fascinating that even when you're
00:08:48.770 presented with all these perfect things--
00:08:51.400 --you just don't feel it.
00:08:52.510 It's true.
00:08:53.110 It's not just about the external world because we get used to it, right?
00:08:56.260 So at Google, they do get tired of the free sushi after a little while
00:08:59.807 because that's your expectation.
00:09:01.140 Or why is this toilet seat not heated?
00:09:03.229 How can I work here?
00:09:04.940 And I worked with some of the leaders at Google.
00:09:06.650 And they said that that's not what gets people engaged there.
00:09:08.410 It's the social connection you feel during the long hours.
00:09:10.847 It's the feeling that your behavior matters on projects.
00:09:13.180 It's getting to see your potential emerge.
00:09:15.100 And that's why it's so crucial that we redefine what happiness is.
00:09:18.210 It's not pleasure.
00:09:19.470 It's the joy we feel moving towards our potential.
00:09:22.080 And joy you can feel even when life is not pleasurable.
00:09:24.750 Even the ups and downs of a market cycle, even
00:09:26.764 with the stress you might feel within your own life,
00:09:28.930 or overflowing in-boxes with email, you are going to feel high levels of stress.
00:09:34.580 You're going to sometimes feel displeasure.
00:09:36.430 But you can feel joy as you watch your potential emerge, your strengths rise.
00:09:39.638 You help the world become a better place.
00:09:41.580 And the other side of it, which I love, is that happiness is actually
00:09:45.620 fuel for your potential.
00:09:47.221 It's the greatest advantage you could give your brain.
00:09:49.470 So when we choose happiness, and when we choose it at the individual level,
00:09:52.620 it turns out our success rates actually rise as we deal with the world.
00:09:56.400 So it doesn't make us complacent.
00:09:57.830 It actually helps us to solve the problems we need to fix in this world.
00:10:00.960 Last question for you.
00:10:01.941 Again, I was going through some of the stuff that you've written before.
00:10:04.940 And you had this great, very tactical thing about success accelerants.
00:10:08.202 And I think it was, like, create a list of things you want to get done.
00:10:11.160 But then put two things on there you've already
00:10:12.570 done so you can cross them off right away and go, woohoo!
00:10:14.945 This sounds so simple, but we found that two things accelerate the brain towards a goal.
00:10:20.510 And that's either perceiving progress or feeling like the finish line is close,
00:10:24.220 what we call proximity.
00:10:25.390 And so what we do is we pump up the brain to realize that there's been progress
00:10:29.970 by-- if you're writing a checklist of things you need to do over the course of the day,
00:10:33.630 you write down five things, 10 things you need to do, but actually write down
00:10:37.230 two or three things you've already done.
00:10:38.330 I've already eaten breakfast.
00:10:39.538 I already saw my kids.
00:10:40.860 I already brushed my teeth.
00:10:42.000 And you check the-- I already wrote a checklist.
00:10:43.470 [CHUCKLING] You write those down, and you check them off.
00:10:45.845 What your brain sees is I'm not starting at 0%.
00:10:48.270 I'm actually starting at 30% or 20% of what I needed to do over the course of the day.
00:10:52.480 I've had progress.
00:10:53.440 And your brain actually speeds towards that goal.
00:10:56.270 Same thing with New Year's resolutions.
00:10:58.567 The very first thing I do now is if I'm setting a goal--
00:11:00.900 and this is not just personal.
00:11:01.930 I mean, this is at companies, as well.
00:11:03.530 If you're setting goals for a team or a sales goal, you don't start at 0%.
00:11:06.940 What you try to do is you first highlight the successes you've already had.
00:11:10.079 So if I'm going to write down New Year's resolutions, the very first thing I do
00:11:13.370 is write down three things I was able to accomplish over the previous year
00:11:15.980 that I was surprised at.
00:11:16.980 Like, I read this number of books.
00:11:18.730 I actually got to this minute mile.
00:11:21.250 I worked a soup kitchen this many times.
00:11:24.237 So then when I write down things I want to do in the future, I'm not starting at zero.
00:11:27.820 I'm not starting with a deficit.
00:11:29.310 I'm starting with so much strength.
00:11:30.768 Look what-- my behavior matters.
00:11:32.380 I can do things.
00:11:33.470 And it speeds your brain towards the goal completion.
00:11:37.188 Shawn, I could keep going, but I can't.
00:11:39.568 I think you've got to get on stage.
00:11:40.050 Well, I'd love to.
00:11:40.230 Thanks very much.
00:11:40.938 It was so nice talking to you.
00:11:42.494 You too.
00:11:43.760 And a reminder, please talk to your advisor, lawyer, or accountant to figure out what
00:11:48.700 works best for you.