Shawn Achor’s TEDx talk on how your happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world

Did you know that happiness inspires productivity? The idea that we have to work to be happy is actually backwards…This TED talk is incredibly funny and fast-paced and the 12 minutes it will take you to watch it are not only powerful and poignant, but entertaining.  Shawn Achor is a psychologist and the CEO of Good Think Inc., and a researcher of positive psychology.  Below are a few of my favorite points from his talk (pulled from the transcript on, but his style is so engaging and his stories are so funny, I recommend taking the time to watch the video!!

90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can do is change the way that we can then affect reality. What we found is that only 25% of job successes are predicted by I.Q. 75% of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat.
The absence of disease is not health. Here’s how we get to health: We need to reverse the formula for happiness and success.
Most companies and schools follow a formula for success, which is this: If I work harder, I’ll be more successful. And if I’m more successful, then I’ll be happier. That undergirds most of our parenting styles, our managing styles, the way that we motivate our behavior.
And the problem is it’s scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons. First, every time your brain has a success, you just changed the goalpost of what success looked like. You got good grades, now you have to get better grades, you got into a good school and after you get into a better school, you got a good job, now you have to get a better job, you hit your sales target, we’re going to change your sales target. And if happiness is on the opposite side of success, your brain never gets there. What we’ve done is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon as a society. And that’s because we think we have to be successful, then we’ll be happier.
But the real problem is our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, what we’ve found is that every single business outcome improves. Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed. You’re 37% better at sales. Doctors are 19% faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed. Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently.
We can actually rewire your brain,allowing your brain to actually work more optimistically and more successfully.We’ve done these things in research now in every single company that I’ve worked with,getting them to write down three new things that they’re grateful for for 21 days in a row, three new things each day.And at the end of that,their brain starts to retain a pattern of scanning the world, not for the negative, but for the positive first.
Journaling about one positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours allows your brain to relive it.Exercise teaches your brain that your behavior matters.We find that meditation allows your brain to get over the cultural ADHD that we’ve been creating by trying to do multiple tasks at once and allows our brains to focus on the task at hand.And finally, random acts of kindness are conscious acts of kindness.We get people, when they open up their inbox,to write one positive email praising or thanking somebody in their social support network.
And by doing these activities and by training your brain just like we train our bodies, what we’ve found is we can reverse the formula for happiness and success.
You can actually train your brain to become more positive, and the slide he posted for how to do that is here:

Watch below…and enjoy! 🙂



Comments (2)

One of the best TED talks I’ve ever seen. Seems like he was told, “Shawn, remember how we said you’d have 18 minutes … can you say it all in 12?” Well done, Mr. Achor. Brilliant. Clever. Funny. Thanks for sharing, Suzi.

I know! He is so quick, isn’t he? I love the presentation style as well as the content…he has done some great blog posts on HBR. Thanks for your note, Steve!

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