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  • SHAWN ACHOR: When I first went off to college

  • to start collecting debts, my father was buoyed by the idea

  • that he knew I would just come back with a high quality job.

  • I'd come back and be a doctor or a lawyer or a banker.

  • And when I came back from college and told them,

  • Dad, I want to study the science of happiness, he sat me down.

  • And he said, Sean, I just want to let

  • you know that the average scientific journal article is

  • only read on average by seven people total, which

  • is incredibly depressing research-- statistic for us

  • researchers to hear.

  • Because we know that that statistic also

  • includes our moms.

  • So we're down to six people that read

  • these studies, which is a tragedy.

  • Because I believe that research is

  • the key to bridging the gaps that we're hearing about what

  • we've been learning about in terms of theory

  • and what we've been seeing applied in practice.

  • My very first talk was out at a large Swiss bank

  • at the beginning of the banking class.

  • And when I was introduced, I was introduced by a senior level

  • leader there who was asked by HR to introduce me.

  • And he did not want to do so.

  • And instead of reading my bio, he

  • said, well, we don't have bonuses for everyone,

  • but here's a talk on happiness from a guy from America.

  • You can imagine the cold response as the tech team

  • unfortunately in the back turned on the "Don't Worry, Be Happy"

  • theme music as I walked up from the back of the room.

  • But within 10 minutes of talking to them,

  • as I start talking about research that was directly

  • aimed at how we can actually get people to believe

  • that their behavior matters again, to restart forward

  • progress in the midst of a challenge,

  • you could see people start to pick up their pens

  • and start to take notes that they

  • wanted to bring back to their teams.

  • Seven years later, earlier this year,

  • I was out at the Pentagon.

  • I was invited to give a talk there on happiness.

  • And I was brought into a room full of senior level leaders--

  • people that were leaders of NATO forces in Afghanistan and Iraq,

  • who were Special Forces.

  • And I did the bravest thing I think I've ever done.

  • I started a talk at the Pentagon with a story

  • about a unicorn, which if you see my TED Talk,

  • you know what I'm talking about.

  • But afterwards, one of the senior leaders came up to me

  • and said, Sean, 10 years ago, we could not

  • have had a talk on happiness at the Pentagon.

  • And I think he's right.

  • That's where I want to start my talk today.

  • Because I believe we're at the midst of twin revolutions.

  • Of course, we're sitting in the heart

  • of the technological revolution that we already know about.

  • But we're also realizing that while technology can increase

  • productivity, we're also finding that we

  • can't increase the amount of workload and stress

  • and strain on the same individual

  • and still hope to maintain those same levels of productivity

  • and profitability.

  • The second realization and revolution

  • will be the idea that we can increase productivity

  • by increasing optimal human flourishing.

  • And that's what I want to talk about today

  • about that research.

  • We were asked to talk about one thing that

  • was-- they were going to put it out there

  • that there was going to start debate.

  • And what I would like argue is that you are not just

  • your genes and your environment-- that

  • scientifically, happiness can be a choice.

  • But it's a choice that we can influence

  • through our organizations.

  • And when we do so, it becomes the greatest

  • competitive advantage in the modern economy.

  • This is my third time out speaking at Google.

  • One of the times I came here was with Ming Tan

  • to do a Google Talk.

  • And while I was talking to them, I

  • started noticing all these comparisons

  • between what we saw at Google and what

  • I was seeing during my 12 years at Harvard.

  • For example, when I talk to my friends from Waco, Texas

  • where I grow up about going off to Harvard,

  • they say, why would you study happiness there?

  • They seem to have everything-- opportunities, resources,

  • wealth, and successes.

  • And when I was at Google, I was talking to people

  • and I asked them if they walked around

  • in a constant state of ecstasy.

  • And one of the women in the accounting department

  • said with-- sheepishly-- that she actually

  • felt very frustrated sometimes on Fridays because she would

  • see the line for the free sushi and it was way too long.

  • How is she expected to be productive

  • when the line is that long?

  • I ask you.

  • But what I started realizing what--

  • it wasn't about the external world

  • that causes people to become happier.

  • And that's not what causes Google

  • to be so successful as Lazlo was mentioning earlier.

  • What I want to talk about is what I was seeing at Harvard.

  • One of the very first studies I did

  • was a study of 1600 Harvard students.

  • I was looking to see, can you predict,

  • in a population that's very intelligent, very successful,

  • very creative, who will rise to the top in terms of levels

  • of happiness and success while they're there?

  • I looked at everything.

  • We asked their familial income, their SAT scores.

  • We looked at their GPA.

  • We looked at a number of clubs that they were involved in.

  • We found out their number of romantic relationships, which

  • we found at Harvard was, on average, less than one

  • per Harvard student, which is why many people come out

  • to Stanford.

  • And we found it was 0.5 sexual partners per Harvard student,

  • which I only mention because I still

  • have no idea what that statistic even means.

  • We were always taught to round up.

  • But 0.5 sexual partners with the equivalent of second base.

  • And it was useless information to us.

  • But imagine a student who, ever since they were a one-year-old,

  • was placed into a crib wearing a onesie that you can buy

  • at the bookstore that says, bound for Harvard,

  • and maybe a cute little Yale had in case something terrible

  • happened.

  • And ever since they were in pre-K school

  • which they got into four years before they were conceived,

  • they were the top 1% of their class--

  • junior high, high school, standardized test, top 1%.

  • They walk into Harvard and they have a terrible realization,

  • one that many people when they come to Google have as well.

  • They suddenly realize that 50% of them are now below average.

  • To put it more poignantly, when I talk to these students,

  • I said it seems based on my research that 99% of you

  • will not graduate in the top 1%, which they don't find

  • that funny either.

  • But the reason that's interesting

  • is they've decided to pin their levels of happiness

  • on their future success which is related to something small,

  • like grades, which if you know the statistics on grades,

  • I can roll a pair of dice and that's

  • equally predictive of your future job income

  • as your college GPA actually is.

  • But they consign 99% to unhappiness.

  • And the top 1% when we study them

  • is actually not that happy either.

  • The system is broken.

  • It's based upon a flawed system of happiness and success--

  • a formula for it which is the heart of my research.

  • What I do is I study what I believe

  • to be one of the fundamental problems that's

  • causing us to limit both our happiness and success

  • with an organization.

  • And it's a formula we get there.

  • And it's the way that we manage, the way that we parent,

  • and it's the way that we do self-development.

  • Most people follow the formula, which is if you work harder,

  • you're going to be more successful.

  • As soon as you achieve these goals,

  • think how happy you're going to be.

  • Think how often we do that.

  • Soon as I finish this project, I'll be happier.

  • Soon as I finish this presentation,

  • then I'm going to feel happier.

  • As soon as I finish all this travel, then I'll feel happier.

  • As soon as I get into the right school, I'll feel happier.

  • Soon as I get the right job, I'll feel happier.

  • But what we notice is that formula

  • which undergirds most of our parenting styles

  • in organizations is scientifically broken

  • and backwards for two reasons.

  • The first reason is, every time your brain has had a success

  • in the past, what have you done?

  • You've change the goal post of what success

  • looked like almost immediately.

  • You got good grades in school?

  • Don't get excited yet.

  • You don't even have a job.

  • You get a job.

  • That's great, you have a job.

  • But now you have to hit your sales target.

  • Well, you hit your sales target.

  • That's great.

  • But we're going to raise your sales

  • target for the next quarter, right?

  • So in each moment, we want to see sales rise.

  • We want to see growth and improvement.

  • We want to see grades improve.

  • That's not the problem.

  • The problem is where happiness lies

  • in the formula for our managing our organizations

  • and for ourselves.

  • What we've found is that if happiness

  • is on the opposite side of success,

  • you've pushed it over the cognitive horizon.

  • Your brain never quite gets there

  • because it's a moving target.

  • But flip around the formula.

  • If you cause people to invest in their social support networks,

  • deepen their social support networks,

  • raise their levels of optimism, and change the way that they

  • view stress from a threat to a challenge,

  • it turns out every single business and educational

  • outcome we know how to test for rises dramatically.

  • We find that productivity rises 31%

  • when people move from a neutral state to a positive state.

  • We find that sales rise by 37% cross industry.

  • We found similar to the research you've

  • found in the great book "Give and Take" by Adam Grant,

  • we know that if you provide social support at work,

  • you're 40% more likely to receive a promotion

  • over the next two year period of time.

  • We know that you live longer.

  • Your symptoms are less acute.

  • We find that you stay at organizations even longer.

  • All of that information is great.

  • But the problem is that if you try

  • to raise your levels of success rate for the rest of your life

  • and you're successful at that, your happiness levels flatline.

  • They don't move.

  • Flip around the formula, if we find

  • some way of investing in our engagement levels at work,

  • if you've read Dan Ping's fabulous book "Drive",

  • if you've been looking at ways to deepen social connection,

  • if we could change the way we view stress,

  • suddenly a different picture emerges.

  • That's what I wanted to talk to you about.

  • Because what works really well in the laboratory

  • sometimes doesn't work out in the messiness of life.

  • So since I've spent my time at Harvard,

  • I left in the middle of the banking crisis

  • to try and figure out how we could apply this research out

  • within the real world.

  • And a lot of the work I'm going to talk about

  • is at organizations.

  • But I've also traveled to 51 countries working with farmers

  • in Zimbabwe that lost their land, working

  • with children at St. Jude Children's Hospital trying

  • to find out from some of the doctors

  • there why it is that four-year-old children

  • with terminal cancer are more likely to tell

  • their parents everything's going to be OK then the reverse.

  • Why is there access to resilience at childhood

  • that we lose sometimes in adulthood?

  • And how do we import that to soldiers coming back

  • from combat services?

  • That's not what we're going to get to talk about today.

  • What I wanted to talk about is some of the ways

  • we've seen these organizations be able to thrive.

  • We