The 12 minute video below is a talk given by Sean Achor, who is an American educator, author and speaker. It is both entertaining and funny while at the same time challenges our assumptions as to what are the factors that can truly make us happy.

One of Achor’s main points is the importance of mindset to increasing our potential for happiness, productivity, creativity and energy. This flies in the face of  much of formal education which seeks to focus on what is called “the cult of the average”. 

What that means is an apparently simple question like “How fast can a child learn how to read in a classroom?” has tended to be rephrased as “How fast does the average child learn how to read in that classroom?” What that in turn leads to is a focus on those who are average and equating normality with average (For more on this see What Do We Mean By Education?) The focus is just to get everyone to the average level.

There has been a tendency to ignore those who are unusually or extra-ordinarily more able in terms of happiness,  intellect, athletic ability, musical skill, creativity, energy levels, or resiliency. We tend to just put such people in a box and say they are unusally talented and gifted which would be impossible for the rest of us. However, Achor asks the provocative question, rather than ignoring such people as outliers, why not study such people in detail to glean information on not just moving people up to average, but to move the entire average up in companies and schools worldwide?

The key point is that it is not reality that shapes us, but the lens through which your brain views the world that shapes your reality. The powerful hypothesis is that if we can change this lens not only can we change our level of happiness, but we can change every single educational and business outcome at the same time. If that is true then the implications are radical.

Achor points out that we tend to naturally assume that our external world is predictive of our happiness levels. Quoting from the talk:

“If I know everything about your external world, I can only predict 10% of your long-term happiness. 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world. And if we change it, if we change our formula for happiness and success, what we can then do is change the way that we can then affect reality. What we found is that only 25% of job successe are predicted by IQ. 75% of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.”

Achor points out that we live with the assumption that if we work hard we will be successful in life and that the more successful we are then the happier we will become. There are two problem with this.

Firstly, the more we achieve and do,  the temptation is to keep on postponing our happiness because there is always more we could achieve or do. (See post Which Way are You Looking Part 1 and Part 2 that explains this further with the concept of the Gap).

The second problem is that all the research points in the opposite direction. By raising someone’s level of positivity in the present, their brain will experience what is called a happiness advantage. This means that your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral or stressed. According to Achor a positive brain has greater intelligence, creativity and energy. He quotes the following statistical advantage of a positive brain over being negative, neutral or stressed:

– 31% more productive

– 37% better at sales

– Doctors are 19% faster and more accurate when coming up with the correct diagnosis.

The implication from this is that by finding ways to be positive in the present will lead to not just greater happiness, but the ability to work harder, faster and more intelligently. Achor explains this further in his book (p.44):

“Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good but dial up the learning centres of our brains to higher levels. They help us organise new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And they enable us to make and sustain more neural connections, which allows us to think more quickly and creatively, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving, and see and invent new ways of doing things.”

In the next post we will look at ways you can actually train your brain to be more positive.

Sir Ken Robinson also makes related points about the system of education in the post How Schools Kill Creativity.

Also see posts How Would You Define Success? and Lessons on Happiness from a 108 Year Old!

It would be great to have your thoughts and comments from this post.