Harvard, Being Above Average, & Happiness {TED talk by Shawn Achor}

TED talks are becoming my new favorite thing. In 2012 I may not be a student any longer, but I will be educated by the inspirational speakers I’ve watched on TED.

One of my new favorite speakers is Shawn Achor.

About Shawn: “Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, spent over a decade at Harvard University where he won numerous distinguished teaching awards for his work.  He graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned a Masters from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics.  In 2006, he was Head Teaching Fellow for “Positive Psychology,” the most popular course at Harvard at the time.  In 2007, Shawn founded Good Think Inc. to share his research with a wider population.  When the global economy collapsed in 2008, Shawn was immediately called in as an expert by the world’s largest banks to help restart forward progress.  Subsequently, Shawn has spoken in 45 countries to a wide variety of audiences: bankers on Wall Street, students in Dubai, CEOs in Zimbabwe. Shawn’s research on happiness and human potential have received attention from the Harvard Business Review, New York Times, Forbes, CNN, and NPR.”

Before we jump into his talk, I wanted to lay the groundwork for why his words really mean something to me. And why I think it should matter for everyone.


Have you ever felt like you needed to do one more thing to be happy–get better grades, get into a top tier school, land the dream job, meet your soulmate, buy your dream house? And then, once you get there–you’re still not happy? You’re simply making new goals and re-defining ‘success’ so you’re never quite happy in.the.moment. Anyone? No? Just me?

Shawn taught at Harvard when I was a student (online) there in 2006. I remember when I was ‘accepted’ into graduate bio-statistics there and I remember how happy I was when I got an A from Harvard. But then it was–if you got an A at Harvard, you better get a 4.0 through your entire graduate program. Do better. Do more. Then you’ll find happiness.

In a 3 month time frame in 2007, during one of my darkest points in my life, I came to a realization that happiness does not come from success. You can be accepted into the graduate program of your dreams, have your dream job, own a house and still find ‘more more more’ that you need to strive for. Happiness does not come from success. Success is the result of being happy, positive, and optimistic.

My favorite quotes from the talk…

“If we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average.”

“[It’s] the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens, not only can we change your happiness, we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time.”

The 5 steps he provides to ‘train your brain to be more positive’ are short, sweet and simple. And I didn’t even realize it at the time, but in 2007, these principles are what shifted my life.

1. Write down 3 things you are grateful for every.single.day. (for 21 days–you will rewire your brain. Pretty awesome, huh?)

2. Journal.

3. Exercise.

4. Meditate.

5. Practice random acts of kindness.

Check out Shawn’s funny, educational, and uplifting talk and let me know what you think.

Do you already live your life following this mantra or do you need to adopt some of these practices?

I’d love to hear about your tipping point and how positivity, optimism, happiness and success are now defined in your life.

[youtube width=”600″ height=”450″]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fLJsdqxnZb0[/youtube]


Dano - March 7, 2012 - 4:39 am

I’ve taken a liking to watching TED talks too, since the podcasts are free and one comes out every weekday! I’ve learned so much.

Allie - March 9, 2012 - 7:46 am

LOVE it. And love TED talks, but don’t watch enough of them. Thanks for sharing!