Tal Ben-Shahar is an author and lecturer at Harvard University. He currently teaches the largest course at Harvard on "Positive Psychology" and the third largest on "The Psychology of Leadership"--with a total of over 1,400 students.
Tal consults and lectures around the world to executives in multi-national corporation, the general public, and at-risk populations. Topics include happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, mindfulness, and leadership.
An avid sportsman, Tal won the U.S. Intercollegiate and Israeli National squash championships. He obtained his PhD in Organizational Behavior and BA in Philosophy and Psychology from Harvard.
Question: Can corporations beneficially employ theories of positive psychology?
Tal Ben-Shahar: What corporations, certainly in the 21st century, need to come to terms with is the fact that happiness pays. Meaning positive emotions actually lead to more creativity, they lead to more motivation; and they lead to more loyalty for the workplace. And in the 21st century an organization that is not creative, that does not have innovation as one of its basic pillars, cannot thrive in the long haul.
Question: What specifically can a corporation do to promote happiness?
Tal Ben-Shahar: The first thing that an organization needs to do is to give space, place, for people to fail. Now, it shouldn't give a blank check to failure, but it needs to identify the area where failure is not traumatic or terrible and give space in these areas, because that's where people learn; that's where people explore. An organization where people are afraid of failing every step of the way will not be an innovative organization. Second, an organization needs to also consider giving people recovery space. It's no coincidence that we get some of our best ideas in the shower. We used to get it in the car, before the cell phone came on the scene. And it's because people have the time to take a step back and to think about certain issues, for ideas to marinate. And this is necessary. That's part of creativity. It's no coincidence that the words creation and recreation are etymologically linked, because we need to recreate if we want to create. Organizations need to encourage their employees to take recovery times, whether it's 15 minutes every 90 minutes or so; whether it's the gym in the middle of the day; whether it's the day or two off, not while being connected to the computer and cell phone; whether it's the vacation, where one is really on vacation, on holiday. And these recovery periods in the long term actually contribute to creativity, productivity, as well as happiness.
Recorded on: September 23, 2009