Home » Shawn Achor: Before Happiness @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Shawn Achor: Before Happiness @ Talks at Google (Transcript)

Because I had this guy come into work three hours late today, and I tried to yell at him, and he was like, what are you doing? Let’s just relax and just enjoy ourselves. And I was like, that guy didn’t make me happy at all. But what he’s talking about there is not happiness, right? That’s short-term pleasure. The guy decided to stay home that morning and didn’t do the work that he was supposed to be doing. But if that’s what it is, then long-term his levels of happiness are actually going to decrease.

He’s never going to get to see what his potential was within that organization. He might not get to see what his potential was in terms of applying his self-control and his behavior to his task. So what we want people to do is to recognize that that can be more on the side of apathy. I think the opposite of happiness is not unhappiness. The opposite of happiness is apathy, which is the loss of joy that we feel within our lives.

Because if you think about it, unhappiness can sometimes make us breakup with people we shouldn’t be dating. Or unhappiness can cause us to move to do different jobs, or it can cause us to want to get better grades in school. Unhappiness can be very helpful. What I think becomes the problem is when we’ve lost that joy in our life, when we lose that joy striving towards our potential. So I think that there’s a revolution inside of us.

If we can help people realize that happiness is joy that we feel on the way to our potential, some amazing things start to change.

CHADE-MENG TAN: Fascinating. It’s especially fascinating in the context of one of your teachings from your previous book, which I thought was ground-breaking. And when I first read it, I was really impressed. In your previous book, which is “The Happiness Advantage,” you talk about the relationship between happiness and success. And you put it on its head, the reverse of what everybody else was thinking.

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CHADE-MENG TAN: Which is everybody was thinking that if you’re successful, you’re happy, which is basically the premise of Asian parenting. Right? Trust me, I know. But what you say, and I agree with you, is that it’s the reverse. It’s that happiness brings about success. So can you talk more about that?

SHAWN ACHOR: Sure. So you guys might have heard “The Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” book that came out about tiger parenting, which is the style of parenting you’re describing, which is I’m going to push you so far right now, and you’re going to hate me for it, but when you’re successful, when you’re off at Harvard, Stanford, when you’ve got a good job, then you’re going to be happier.


SHAWN ACHOR: And it turns out that that formula, which undergirds our managing styles at most companies, our learning styles, our personal development styles, it’s scientifically broken and backwards for two reasons.

The first reason is that every time your brain has a success– and you’ve experienced this. Everyone in this room has experienced this– your brain just changes the goal post of what success looks like for you almost immediately. You’ve got good grades in school? Don’t get excited yet, because now you need to get into better schools. You got into a better school? Don’t get excited there, because then you have to get a job. You don’t even have a job yet, right? So you have to get that internship and job.

You hit your sales target? We raise your sales target. You had double growth earnings last year? That’s phenomenal. That means we can double the growth again this year. And that’s not the problem. We want to see what your brain is capable of. We want growth to improve. We want to see sales improve, all of these different types of things. The problem is where happiness comes in that formula.

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Because if happiness comes after success, which is a moving target, the brain never gets there for very long. We can raise your success rates your entire life. We can raise your income. We don’t actually do this. We watch people whose success rates rise. That’d be very hard for us to do. We watch people whose success rates rise dramatically, and their happiness levels flatline. They actually don’t move.

So as your success rises in your life, your happiness levels will actually remain about the same. But flip around the formula, if you can get people to deepen the social connection they feel, the meaning embedded in the relationships, the breadth and depth of the relationships, if you change and raise their levels of optimism, if you get people to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat, when our brain is positive first, every single educational outcome and business outcome we can test for rises dramatically, and our success rates rise.

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