Shawn Achor has made important contributions to the field of positive psychology. Known for his popular book and TED talk, the man behind the Happiness Advantage took findings from research on college students and applied them to how people work.
He found that the external trappings of a job (title, pay) are not predictive of happiness within it.
Shawn recently delivered the keynote at the Bright Horizons Solutions at Work LIVE conference where I got to ask him about his findings and how they can be applied to managers in the workplace.
Q&A With Shawn Achor
Lucy English: What advice would you give to managers?
Shawn Achor: My advice to managers is that change is possible. People often feel that they have to be successful before they’re happy, but that’s not the case. Being positive and optimistic leads to success, not the other way around.”
LE: What kind of training helps managers?
SA: Train them in optimism, social connection and gratitude. We need to teach them to talk about changes in the workplace as challenges, not as threats. That will help his employees to approach problems optimistically.
LE: It seems to me like I can reframe problems to challenges when I like the work I’m doing but I don’t do that as well on parts of my job I don’t like. Does it matter how you feel about your job to begin with?
SA: Actually, it doesn’t. We’ve trained people to be more optimistic in all kinds of jobs and it can help people be happier and more successful in any situation. When we trained people to reframe their stress as a challenge, we saw a twenty-three percent drop in the negative effects of stress.
LE: What’s an example of a skill you train for?
SA: One important one is to teach people to filter for the positive. There is more information coming at us at any one time than we can manage, so we’re always filtering. Often we scan our environments for threats, which makes sense in some ways, but it means that we’re filtering for the negatives.
Optimism: The Last Word
In addition to designing interventions to help people to be more positive, Shawn also measured the impact of those innovations on working people in businesses, schools and in the government. He summed up the importance of one’s outlook this way:
“We can learn to filter for positives by taking time every day to list good things that happened, things we’re grateful for, and setting positive expectations,” he says. “That doesn’t mean pretending things are different from reality. In fact rational optimism is rooted in reality.”
“Optimism,” he concludes, “is about how we approach the reality we see.”