Weak ties are actually much more predictive of your long-term success than the strong ties are. Happiness levels, though, are related to both, the breadth and depth of your relationships. So part of what we find is people, depending on your introversion or your extroversion, you can have lots of friends or small friends, deep or broad, and what we found is that it really is how you see it, how you see those interactions. Do you see them as only weak ties, in which case they don’t actually provide as much meaning to you, in which case you don’t actually feel sustained by that social support network? It’s what we see with social media a lot of times. When people follow people on Twitter or on any social media platform, if they follow people they don’t know they get no return on their investment of time in terms of social connection.
But if they follow people that they’re friends from high school and they see that they just had a kid or they just got a job and they actually do see them at some point or they do interact with them, they have a depth of their social knowledge that deepens that relationship and causes more meaning. So what I’ve been doing in my life– this sounds very similar to what you’re experiencing– is I try to reconnect with some of those people in very short bursts but in meaningful ways. And one of the habits that I have people do at these companies is every day when you get into work write a two-minute email praising or thanking or reconnecting with one person. That’s it. Two minutes maximum, so it’s super short.
It’s two or three sentences. Try it today. Just connect with one of those people you feel like is outside of that career sphere. And if you do it for three days, you’ll literally become addicted to it, because you’re going to spend all day long thinking about how amazing you were for writing that email. But what happens is 21 days later as you’ve reconnected to those people, your brain realizes, wow, I have incredibly robust social support.
I saw some of you this morning that I hadn’t seen from my time at Harvard, and it’s so exciting I haven’t seen you in so long, and it’s so exciting to have those opportunities. What we found is social support is the greatest predictor of long-term happiness we have. So instead of fleeing from negative or only investing in our sphere, if we can find just small ways to increase and deepen that social connection, we’ve found it’s the greatest predictor of happiness. At Columbia, they found that if I know the collective IQ on a team and the years of experience, neither of those are as predictive as how tight the team feels, so we know it’s important.
But then the last part, my favorite statistic right now, which is actually by a guy named Dr House, which I think is hilarious, he found that the social connection is as predictive of how long you will live as obesity, high blood pressure, or smoking. We fight so hard against the negative, and we forget about how powerful two minutes of a positive interaction could be. So yeah, I feel the exact same thing, and I think it’s how we perceive those relationships that, while they might be temporary, that doesn’t take away the meaning involved with them, just as everything that is temporary in life is not destroyed of meaning. This is from Buddhism, right? While things are temporary, that doesn’t mean that there’s not meaningful.
In fact, that can actually increase the meaning of those short times that we have with those people.
CHADE-MENG TAN: We’re out of time, so I just have one short last question for you, Shawn. What can we, Google, do for you?
SHAWN ACHOR: Oh! You already did it for coming. Thank you so much for coming.
I think the biggest thing is help us get this positive research out there more. Tal Ben-Shahar told me that he had an adviser who said that the average scientific journal article is only read by seven people total– which is incredibly depressing for a researcher to hear, because I know that also includes my mom. So if there’s any way you can share this research. I think the best way is to tell people about it. Tell people they’re not just their genes or their environment.
But really the best way is to show them. Pick up a positive habit. Get involved with one of these programs to create one of these positive changes. Because what we find is that it ripples out so much to effect other people. Real quick story.
I was working with a CEO of a fast food company. He sold his company for hundreds of millions of dollars and had a breakdown. He made millions of dollars. But that night he went on track with his wife and start walking off some of the weight that he had gained and talking about things that he was grateful for, doing that positive habit. It was so helpful that they start doing it and telling their kids that they were doing it.
And they got a call from one of their friend’s parents who said, did you hear what happened at the summer party for your daughter? And they were like, oh, no. Was there drinking or boys? And they said, no, she got everyone in her friend group to sit around and talk about the things that they were grateful for that were going on at school. We can actually create a different social script for the world where people don’t wait for happiness off in the future but actually are creating it now and actually are tipping this world away from negativity and stress to a world that believes this behavior matters and can see ways of changing this reality into a better reality for all of us, which is why I get excited.