Happiness Is Not a Passive Phenomenon

Question: What is the biggest misconception about happiness?

Shawn Achor: I think we think that happiness is something that you find or if you reach some level in a company or a school, then you’re happier.  And what we’re finding is that happiness is not something that happens to you; happiness is a work ethic.  It’s something that requires our brains to train just like an athlete has to train.  In order to become happier, we actually have to focus our brains down on things that actually move us forward instead of getting stagnating in the things that... for example, stressing about things that are outside of our control doesn’t move us forward at all.  

So what I think that what we need to be able to do is to not only change the formula for success, to help us to be able to focus upon this idea that if we prioritize happiness, it will then raise our success rates, but also a recognition that is something that we actually have to be conscious about on a daily basis because it’s something that actually requires effort, it requires training and requires us to be able to focus our attention on this.  And if we do so, I think the thing that we oftentimes think is that if people get happy, they’ll stop working hard or that happy people are unintelligent.  And what we're finding is just the opposite.  I think it is the most counter-intuitive thing we’ve found, which is happiness actually raises an individual’s intelligence and their success rates.  

We find that the happy people aren’t always the smartest people, we know that there are... I’ve met tons of people that are very successful and not happy, and people that are extremely intelligent and not happy.  So we might assume that those two things are divorced, but now what we really realize in the science is that both of those individuals are actually underperforming what their brain is actually capable of.  And if we have more role models in our companies and schools of individuals that are positive and infect other people with that positivity rippling out through those mirror neuron networks, not only can we raise the levels of happiness and engagement in our schools and companies again, but we’ll actually raise their levels of successes as well.

Recorded September 9, 2010
Interviewed by Max Miller

"Happiness is not something that happens to you; happiness is a work ethic," says Achor. "It’s something that requires our brains to train just like an athlete has to train."

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