photo of Shawn Achor

After spending twelve years at Harvard University, Shawn Achor 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 of all time. Shawn has worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies, and lectured in more than 50 countries. Shawn is the author of New York Times best-selling books The Happiness Advantage (2010).

From the Archives

Happiness Breeds Happiness

Mirror neurons are a part of our bodies that allow human experiences to flow from one person to another. The same neurons fire when a human being performs an action or sees it performed. This remarkable bit of neuropsychology is at the root of a rethinking of humanness driven by deep scientific research.

We’re wired to transmit information from brain to brain. And, we can reprogram the fundamentals.

This was a part of an amazing talk given by Shawn Achor as the opening keynote for the Ultimate Software User Conference. He’s the most popular teacher at Harvard these days. His research is focused on happiness, its generation and its use as a competitive advantage.

I wasn’t expecting much.

Achor is the son of a Texas neurosurgeon. Years in the Ivy Leagues have dusted the accent away but the toothy smile and self-effacing humor you expect from a Texan shone through. He kept the audience laughing as he hammered home powerful ideas

  • Reality is caused by the way you view it. Not by the way it is.
  • Emotional tone is contagious.
  • Habits of thought persist.
  • It’s a really good idea to change the way you think on a regular basis (and hard to do)
  • Happiness is a choice and not a choice.
  • By choosing to be happy, you can increase the happiness of others
  • The best way to change someone else is by changing yourself.

There’s nothing astonishing about these ideas. They are so common-sensical that nearly everyone forgets them. Achor’s talk was powerful precisely because it melded easy to understand ideas with scientific research. By the end of the talk, the audience was charged up, the social media pipelines were full of positivity and contagious smiling was on display.

This is the how and why of selecting a speaker who starts your event.

Today, one must begin the consideration of speakers by understanding that whatever they say will be tweeted, facebooked, tumblred and generally recycled faster than other news. What once was a contained experience limited to the faithful believers who turn up at users’ conferences is now a global communications moment. The talk was streamed, commented on and repurposed.

In that hour, Shawn Achor’s ideas and sensibilities became one with the Ultimate Software Brand.

And, happiness is good business. The Ultimate culture involves a lot of hugging. The customer base is distinctly HR (female, smart, mid-40s). What works better in that setting than contagious happiness as an end state.

Hats off to the Ultimate team behind this year’s user conference.

(Disclosure: Ultimate covered my expenses and gave me a fee for writing a couple of articles.)

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