Shawn Achor Profile

With a highly distinguished academic career, Shawn Achor, a teacher at Wharton Business School, is a leading expert on the ways in which success and happiness are interrelated. His research into positive psychology has profound implications for employee relationships and performance improvement.

A magna cum laude graduate of Harvard and holder of a Masters degree from Harvard Divinity School, Shawn also served as an Officer of Harvard for seven years, helping students to cope with freshman stress. His lectures on positive psychology were the most popular class at Harvard and his research was a cover story for the Harvard Business Review.

In order to propagate his views further, Shawn founded GoodThinkInc. Through this foundation he has spoken to greatly diverse audiences throughout the world in more than 50 countries, including Chinese CEOs, South African schoolchildren and Zimbabwean farmers as well as the Abu Dhabi Royal family and the US Department of Health. Joining with the National MS Society and Genzyme, he helps to lead the Everyday Matters campaign that helps those struggling with chronic illness to understand that they can still be happy.

Shawn still actively conducts original research in collaboration with Yale University Institute for Applied Positive Research, and his books, The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness are both New York Times bestsellers. In addition, PBS has run a special on his work, The Happiness Advantage with Shawn Achor. His TED talk, “The Happiness Advantage,” has been viewed over four million times.

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    Shawn Achor is the winner of over a dozen distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, where he delivered lectures on positive psychology in the most popular class at Harvard. Shawn has become one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success. His research on happiness made the cover of Harvard Business Review, his TED talk is one of the most popular all time with over 4 million views, and his lecture airing on PBS has been seen by millions. Shawn teaches for the Advanced Management Program at Wharton Business School, and collaborates on research with Yale and Columbia University.

    In 2007, Shawn founded GoodThinkInc to share his research with the world. Subsequently, Shawn has lectured or researched in more than 50 countries, speaking to CEOs in China, school children in South Africa, doctors in Dubai, and farmers in Zimbabwe. He has spoken to the Royal Family in Abu Dhabi, doctors at St. Jude Children’s Hospital, and worked with the U.S. Department of Health to promote happiness. In 2013, Shawn helped lead the Everyday Matters campaign with the National MS Society and Genzyme to show how happiness remains a choice for those struggling with a chronic illness.

    Shawn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned a Masters degree from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics. For seven years, Shawn also served as an Officer of Harvard, living in Harvard Yard and counseling students through the stresses of their first year. Though he now travels extensively for his work, Shawn continues to conduct original psychology research on happiness and organizational achievement in collaboration with Yale University and the Institute for Applied Positive Research.

    Shawn is the author of New York Times best-selling books The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness as well as Ripple’s Effect and The Orange Frog. He is featured in PBS’s The Happiness Advantage with Shawn Achor special.

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Shawn Achor's Speech Descriptions

Shawn Achor presents his groundbreaking research, based on study of top performers at Harvard, in the world’s largest banks and Fortune 500 companies, which demonstrates that rather than happiness springing from success, success comes from happiness. His philosophy of positive psychology has far-reaching implications for the ways in which we approach our work.

Shawn’s studies have shown that in times of record low confidence in our leaders, those leaders need to put a stop to feelings of helplessness by making their teams feel that their behavior is essential to the desired outcome. His approach will provide you with many new ideas for keeping your team members motivated and engaged.

Using the latest scientific research on mirror neurons and mental priming, Shawn demonstrates how changes within our own minds can ripple out across an organization to create an atmosphere in which positive change becomes not only easier but almost inevitable.

The Happiness Advantage: Linking Positive Brains to Performance

Most companies and schools follow this formula: if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy. This formula is scientifically backward. A decade of research shows that training your brain to be positive at work first actually fuels greater success second. In fact, 75% of our job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way. By researching top performers at Harvard, the world’s largest banks, and Fortune 500 companies, Shawn discovered patterns, which create a happiness advantage for positive outliers—the highest performers at the company. Based on his book, The Happiness Advantage, Shawn explains what positive psychology is, how much we can change, and practical applications for reaping the Happiness Advantage in the midst of change and challenge.

Positive Leadership: Restoring a Culture of Confidence

Confidence, trust and job satisfaction are at historic lows. When the economic collapse began, the world’s largest banks called in Shawn Achor to research how to restore confidence and forward progress. While many managers succumb to helplessness, with their teams and clients quickly following suit, Shawn researched those who maintained high levels of success and leadership during the challenge. He found that our brains create confidence based on the belief that our behavior matters to the outcome we desire. To develop this trust, we must create "wins" for our brain necessary to overcome learned helplessness and must train our brains for rational optimism. Based on the science of positive psychology and case studies of working with companies in the midst of an economic collapse, Shawn provides practical applications for raising the belief that individual behavior matters and helping leaders to keep teams motivated and engaged.

The Ripple Effect: How to Make Positive Change Easier

Common sense is not common action. This is because information does not necessarily cause transformation because we require a certain level of "activation energy" to start a change. Shawn′s research in the field of positive psychology has revealed how changes in our own brain due to mindset and behavior can have a ripple effect to a team and an entire organization. This positive ripple effect can create a more productive, positive work culture making positive change easier. Audiences will learn about the latest scientific research on mirror neurons and mental priming to explain how positivity and negativity spread, case studies on how to become a lightning rod for change, and findings on how a positive ripple effect profoundly affects an organization′s ability to transition and change.

Shawn Achor on Speaking

Change is possible, and when we make that choice not only do we give ourselves the greatest competitive advantage…we make others’ lives better.

SPEAKING.COM: What do you want people to learn/take away from your presentations?

ACHOR: The real message in my talk is that change is possible, and when we make that choice not only do we give ourselves the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy, we make others’ lives better.

SPEAKING.COM: What kind of special prep work do you do prior to an event? How do you prepare for your speaking engagements?

ACHOR: I do due diligence on the company to find out which research studies I should apply, and which interactive activities will best help them meet their goals. I emphasize the language that the company’s using and tie my message to their mission statement to ensure that my content will not be “a flash in the pan,” but rather part of their goals.

SPEAKING.COM: Have you had any particularly memorable speaking engagements / unusual situations arise while on the road?

ACHOR: One time at a large Swiss bank, the HR leader had a senior leader introduce me, and she didn’t realize how disgruntled he was in the midst of the banking crisis. So instead of reading my bio, he got up in the room in Zürich and said, “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. But within five minutes of listening to the research and data, people started picking up and taking notes. At the midway point I couldn’t even get to the coffee machine because people had so many questions about how to bring this research back to their teams. After that talk they invited me to go to all their banking centers worldwide (twice) in the middle of the banking crisis.

SPEAKING.COM: What types of audiences would most benefit from your message?

ACHOR: Most of my talks have been for sales leaders, high performers, or senior leaders, but I’ve given over 700 talks throughout the past seven years to a wide range of audiences in diverse locations, from impoverished students in South Africa to bankers at the Federal Reserve Board, from farmers in Zimbabwe to the Obama administration at Camp David. What I find most incredible about this research is how universal its appeal is.

SPEAKING.COM: Which of your keynote speaking topics are your favorites and why?

ACHOR: I find myself doing a hybrid of my talks every time because there are home runs in each one that I want everyone to take with them when they walk away from the talk.

I did not want this research to remain in the lab; I wanted it to be lived.

SPEAKING.COM: What inspired you to start doing speaking engagements?

ACHOR: I fell backwards into speaking. I didn’t even know this profession existed. I planned on being an academic, but I did not want this research to remain in the lab; I wanted it to be lived.

SPEAKING.COM: How much do case studies, personal stories and/or humor factor into your keynote speech content?

ACHOR: Every minute of my 60-minute talk contains humor, research, or practical takeaways. I’ve cut everything else out. That is because those three things raise the likelihood of encouraging people to apply the principles and keep learning.

The most valuable part of my talk is the research and I hope to make it practical.

Happiness is a choice, happiness is an advantage, and happiness spreads.

SPEAKING.COM: What are some of the successes you’ve helped clients achieve?

ACHOR: Through this research (each of these is a separate study/company) we have raised productivity by 31%, raised promotion rate by 40%, raised sales by 37%, tripled revenue, increased pain tolerance by 50%, decreased negative effects of stress by 23%, improved the quality of medical care, tripled creativity, and improved the levels of optimism for people who potentially had genes for pessimism or who were going through difficult times.

I work with soldiers coming back from combat services, depressed bankers, enthusiastic sales leaders, nervous students, and overworked government officials, and I have been privileged to learn things from each of them that I could in turn teach to audiences from completely different backgrounds. Everyone has been able to apply my primary message: happiness is a choice, happiness is an advantage, and happiness spreads. Exclusive Interview with Shawn Achor
Happiness and Competitive Advantage with Shawn Achor
In this interview, Shawn Achor discusses:
  • Scientific findings on the relationship between happiness and success.
  • How organizations are using positive change to drive productivity.
  • Proven strategies to make goals more attainable.
    Read the Full Interview
  • "...Change is possible, and…happiness is ultimately a choice."
    - Shawn Achor

    What People are Saying about Seeing Shawn Speak

    Rating Entries

    “Rave reviews all around! Homerun! Way out of the park! We were enriched, refreshed and left wanting more. Discussion continues and will, I’m sure for some time.”
    -Carlos Hoyt, Associate Dean of Students, Phillips Academy Andover

    “Shawn′s message was refreshing and fun; he made a significant impact in building a more positive workplace culture in our organization. His words impacted people at all levels of our organization and many of us are still talking about his message months later. It was a terrific day for our employees.”
    -Pam Milloy, Grand View College, Iowa

    “The happiness seminar was outstanding. The speaker was articulate, informative and entertaining. A follow-up presentation would be highly recommended. You know that a presentation is good when the entire audience is still attentive even though you have crossed into lunch.”
    -Teacher, West Morris Public School District, New Jersey

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    Books by Shawn Achor:

    The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work

    Our most commonly held formula for success is broken. Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow. But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work. This isn’t just an empty mantra. This discovery has been repeatedly borne out by rigorous research in psychology and neuroscience, management studies, and the bottom lines of organizations around the globe.

    In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, who spent over a decade living, researching, and lecturing at Harvard University, draws on his own research—including one of the largest studies of happiness and potential at Harvard and others at companies like UBS and KPMG—to fix this broken formula. Using stories and case studies from his work with thousands of Fortune 500 executives in 42 countries, Achor explains how we can reprogram our brains to become more positive in order to gain a competitive edge at work.

    Isolating seven practical, actionable principles that have been tried and tested everywhere from classrooms to boardrooms, stretching from Argentina to Zimbabwe, he shows us how we can capitalize on the Happiness Advantage to improve our performance and maximize our potential. Among the principles he outlines:

    • The Tetris Effect: how to retrain our brains to spot patterns of possibility, so we can see—and seize—opportunities wherever we look.
    • The Zorro Circle: how to channel our efforts on small, manageable goals, to gain the leverage to gradually conquer bigger and bigger ones.
    • Social Investment: how to reap the dividends of investing in one of the greatest predictors of success and happiness—our social support network

    A must-read for everyone trying to excel in a world of increasing workloads, stress, and negativity, The Happiness Advantage isn’t only about how to become happier at work. It’s about how to reap the benefits of a happier and more positive mind-set to achieve the extraordinary in our work and in our lives.

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