The Happiness Advantage – How Internal Determines External!


What if I told you it didn’t matter if you got that job? What if I told you didn’t matter if you were accepted by that school? I don’t say that to minimize how badly those things might suck in the moment, but I say that to open you up to a new outlook. What if you not getting that job is giving you time to do something else? What if in the time that you look for another job, you met someone who changed your life? What if in that time you found something else you were really passionate about? What if? The truth is we can play the “what if” game all we want, so why don’t we play it to our advantage? If we’re going to make a story up, let’s make it up in a way that benefits us.

This idea is the essence of what Shawn Achor talks about in his TED talk. He talks about “The Happiness Advantage.” Before I go too far into what his point is, here’s a little bio courtesy of his site:

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.

Shawn starts with a hilarious, short anecdote about his then 5-year old sister who fell from the top of a bunk bed. She fell on her hands and knees and although she was in pain, Shawn tricked his sister into thinking she was a unicorn for landing in such an unconventional, yet seemingly painful way. All of a sudden she ended up shifting her attention from crying to the excitement of believing she may be a unicorn. It is this shift in perception that was key and what shaped the rest of his talk. The reality remained the same, but the perception shifted. He cites research and says

“What were finding is that it’s not necessarily the reality that shapes [you] but the lens through which your brain views the world shapes your reality. And if we can change the lens we can change your happiness.”

Shawn continues to talk about his own experience when he got into Harvard for college, both as an undergraduate and a teacher. He came in excited and thought everyone would think of it as a privilege, but what he found was that while some people did feel this, it was not universal. He says that no matter how happy students were with their initial success of getting in, after 2 weeks of being there, they were no longer focused on the privilege of being there. Their brain became focused on the workload, competition, struggles and complaints. Has this happened to you?…Where one second you’re working hard towards a goal thinking that’ll change everything, but then once you get there, you strive for something else. We often go through our lives thinking that once this happens or that happens, I’ll then be happy. Once I get that job, once I get married, once I get into grad school, I’ll be good. But that’s not always true. As Jon Bon Jovi says,

“Any time that you think you’ve hit the top of the mountain, the truth of the matter is you’ve just reached another mountain. And it’s there to climb all over again.”

Shawn says that there is this assumption that the external circumstances will influence the internal condition. He would often hear from people, why in the world is someone at Harvard studying happiness? What does someone at Harvard possibly have to be unhappy about? These questions inherently carry the assumption that something out there will fix something in here. However, research and Shawn state that internal determines external…

“In realty if I knew everything about your external world, I can only predict 10% of your long term happiness. 90% of long term happiness predicted by how brain processes the world.”

People often think that the job, the relationship, the degree will change everything. However, wherever you go, you still bring you with you. You bring your perceptions. You bring your reality and the lens through which you see the world. The only thing that changes is the situation. Your perceptions may stay the same but they adjust and evolve. Circumstances and situations may mask some underlying feeling and make it feel like something is really different but really that is simply the make up that covers up the blemishes. You have to think about the foundation that is laid and what is under the make up and under the external situations. Is that person underneath happy?

I’ve often heard successful people, such as Tyler Perry, say things about how there are a lot smarter people out there than them, but somehow they were the ones that “made it.” What Tyler Perry and others are referring to is an assumption that smart people are successful and that they will “make it.” However,

“only 25% of job successes are predicted by IQ. 75% of job successes are predicted by your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to perceive stress as a challenge as opposed to a threat.”

Shawn states that schools and companies follow the formula for happiness that that if you work harder you’ll be more successful and if you’re more successful, you’ll be happier. But this is not true because

“Every time your brain has a success, you just change the goal post of what success looks like… If you get a good job, you get a better job… If happiness is on the other side of success, you’ll never get there.”

We don’t have to be “successful” in order to be happy. You can be happy right where you are, right now without the need for some external manifestation to take place. Shawn says that if you raise your level of positivity in the present, then your brain creates a happiness advantage. Your creativity, productivity, and energy level rises. You are 37% more productive when you perceive situations as positive as opposed to neutral or stressed. Find a way to be positive in the present to see what you are actually capable of, right here, right now. This doesn’t mean that you have to fake it and see the world as utopia. That is a different conversation. But can you see the silver linings? Can you see that your current state is not dependent on a future outcome? These are all ideas to think about as we begin to create joy and meaning in our lives.

So what else can we do to bread positivity and create lasting happiness? Shawn cites many research articles and they point to:

  1. Gratitude (finding new things to be grateful for each day helps you to scan the world with positivity)
  2. Journaling
  3. Exercise
  4. Meditation
  5. Random Acts of Kindness

There are a lot of interesting ideas expressed in this video and post and although it’s been stated that internal determines external, external can often drive internal as well. See Dr. Amy Cuddy’s TED talk for more info. These are bidirectional issues that are complex. Both Dr. Amy Cuddy and Shawn Achor are right but they apply to different circumstances. Watch both of these talks and let me know your take!

Start enacting these ideas into your life and let me know if they make a difference! Do these ideas and themes resonate with you? Share your experience!

Related links:

Rubin Khoddam, PhD Clinical Psychology student at University of Southern California, founder of Psych Connection.

Follow us on Twitter

Like us on Facebook


Categories: Blogs by Rubin, Positive Psychology, Quote Therapy, Videos

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

11 replies

  1. Thanks for helping to share the research and spread the ripple effect!


  1. Quarter-Life Crises and The Myth of “Emerging Adulthood” – Part 1! | Psych Connection
  2. Rebuild: Good Think Inc | Reboot.Rebuild.Resolution
  3. Learn how to make the most of your New Year’s Resolution! « Psych Connection
  4. Quarter-Life Crises and The Myth of “Early Adulthood” – Part 2! « Psych Connection
  5. How do you know when it’s time to make a change? « Psych Connection
  6. What is the cost of your behavior? « Psych Connection
  7. The Benefits of Being Happy – Physical, Emotional, Mental & Spiritual | Your Level of Consciousness
  8. What’s your definition of happiness? « Psych Connection
  9. How Happiness Happens from the Inside-Out | Psych Connection

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: