Laugh-out-loud TED Talk: “The Happy Secret to Better Work”

By Freda Marver 11 years agoNo Comments

Laugh-out-loud TED Talk: “The Happy Secret to Better Work”

When I need a good pick-me-up, I watch Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work,” a TED Talk I often recommend to clients.

  • Read on to learn more about Achor’s work, how I see it play out for my clients, and Five Exercises Achor recommends.

Achor begins with a laugh-out-loud story of when he was a child, cheering up his younger sister after she not-so-accidentally fell off her bunk bed. He goes on to discuss the basic tenets of positive psychology, how our perspective can impact our creativity and resourcefulness, and the dramatic role this can have on our work lives.

In a nutshell, Achor says:

“When I’m successful, I’ll be happy” is backwards.

If happiness is always on the other side of success, you’ll never get there. If you won’t be happy until you meet your sales goals, or until you get that promotion, you might feel happy in the moment you attain that success. But then you’ll raise those goals, or start seeking that next promotion. You’ll keep pushing out your goals, and happiness will always be out of reach on the other side of the “cognitive horizon.”

Here is what’s true: When we’re happy, our brains work better.

His extensive research shows that if you raise the happiness level, then intelligence, creativity and energy go up. Sales people sell more, workers are more engaged, doctors make more accurate diagnoses. The brain works significantly better at positive than at negative, neutral or stressed.

Fill in the blank: When __________________, I’ll be happy

How easy is it for you to fill in that sentence? Confession: it’s a no-brainer for me! When I get my to-do list done, I’ll be happy.  On the one hand, it motivates me to work through it. But just as Achor says, instead of feeling happy, I keep coming up with longer to-do lists!

This is an ongoing conversation with clients, too. Many find themselves on an endless treadmill of tasks, projects or goals. When I ask what it would be like to treat oneself with compassion, the reaction frequently is: if I’m easy on myself, things won’t get done. I have to be vigilant. Once things get done, then I can be happy.

Granting permission for “unconditional happiness”

Most of us understand the concept of unconditional love. I feel that Achor is giving us permission to be “unconditionally happy.”

Easier said than done!

Many of my clients struggle with the idea that: it’s okay to feel happy. Exploring why they feel this way often leads to insights that allow them to let happiness seep in and start doing its magic.

Another benefit my clients find from working with me is that I can help them identify when they’re sabotaging their own happiness. Careful listening can help point out to them the myriad conditions they place on themselves before they allow themselves to be happy.

This helps clients be more cognizant, so that they can learn on their own to see when we they’re standing in their own way.

Letting go of the whip

A first step is letting go of the whip. Treating ourselves with compassion loosens the tension and frees us up to work in a less rigid and more fluid way.

But how does one not only be compassionate, but happy?

Five exercises

Achor’s research shows that doing one of the following for 21 days in a row can have a lasting impact in rewiring your brain to be more positive. He discusses these in his video, as well as in the January – February 2012 issue of Harvard Business Review.

  1. 3 gratitudes. Write three new things each day that you’re grateful for. Make sure each item is one you haven’t mentioned already.
  2. Journaling. Write about a positive experience you’ve had over the past 24 hours. This allows the brain to relive it.
  3. Exercise. Ten minutes of exercise teaches the brain that behavior matters.
  4. Meditation. Meditating for two minutes helps our brain overcome the “cultural ADHD” of multitasking and focus more clearly.
  5. Random acts of kindness. When you open your inbox each morning, send a positive email to a colleague or friend. Research suggests this may be the most effective of the five exercises.

Try one of these for 21 days and see if you end up feeling happier, more creative, more energized or engaged.  Feel free to let me know how it worked for you!

The video

So if you haven’t already, do watch the video, and see if afterward you feel not only happier, but eager to see whether any of Achor’s ideas will work for you.


Best –


  TED Talks
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