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Happiness Amidst Coronavirus? Shawn Achor’s Take (ep. 236)

Shawn Achor

As an expert on the connection between happiness and success, Shawn Achor shares research and tips with John O’Leary on the Live Inspired Podcast.

How can I have optimism, happiness and social connectivity during the coronavirus pandemic? 

Acclaimed happiness expert Shawn Achor reminds us that it’s in the darkest times that we need optimism, gratitude and social connection the most.

After spending 12 years at Harvard earning dozens of distinguished teaching awards, Shawn went on to become a New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential, deliver a TEDx with over 19 million views and work with 30+ Fortune 100 companies.

Today, Shawn joins me to talk about coronavirus, what you can do to be happy and feel connected during this season of unprecedented adversity. You’ll leave today’s conversation with research-based reasoning to be optimistic and 3 practical tips to increase during any season of uncertainty.

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  • During high school, Shawn recalls the Branch Davidians + how the Waco siege gave him insight and compassion for people trying to understand conflicts.
  • Shawn is fascinated by how some people can rise out of a challenge and use it to propel them forward while it can paralyze others.
  • As a volunteer firefighter, Shawn unexpectedly was accepted to Harvard and granted a military scholarship. His admission essay focused on his hunger to expand his small world and how he’d want to remind his peers how privileged they were.
  • Expectations affect gratitude: Quickly, Shawn recognized that many of his peers’ expectations were met in attending Harvard and didn’t experience the same level of gratitude because his acceptance was not expected.
  • Rather than embracing the gift of the moment, we often are too focused on looking forward. 
  • While doing research on Harvard, Shawn saw that success wasn’t yielding happiness because your brain adjusts to what the goal is.
  • Does success = happiness? If people become happier, raise their gratitude for the present, deepen social networks or raise their levels of optimism, then success rates rise dramatically.
  • “Happiness during good times is more of a luxury item. When things get difficult, happiness has an even more beneficial effect.”
  • “In the darkest times is when we need optimism, gratitude and social connection the most.”
  • “Happiness is not irrational optimism.”
  • “Optimism allows your brain to be the most adaptive possible when the negative occurs.”
  • Rational optimism: starts with a realistic assessment of the present but maintains the belief that eventually my behavior will matter if linked to the right people.
  • While teaching and researching happiness, Shawn courageously shared he was battling depression.
  • While battling depression, Shawn learned that the majority of our happiness is interconnected with each other.
  • If someone who is genetically predisposed to pessimism can make small tweaks to their day, they can experience impactful change.
  • Three practical tips to increase optimism, happiness and social connectivity: 
    1. Each day, practice scanning for 3 new things that happened in the last 24 hours that you’re grateful for.
    2. When anything positive happens, jot it down on a piece of paper, throw them in a bowl and read back through them at a later date.
    3. Take a few minutes to send a positive message, email or text to someone which will create a ripple effect and a reciprocal loop.
  • “Happiness is not the belief that we don’t need to change; it is the realization that we can.”
  • Get Shawn Achor’s New York Times bestselling books Big Potential, The Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness.

To combat all this negativity and fear around coronavirus and the other uncertainty we face, I created a 21-day challenge to inspire our community to focus on what they can control and to remain ferociously optimistic that their best remains ahead. Sign up for the IN AWE 21-Day Challenge here.


1. What is the best book you’ve ever read? The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.

2. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today? Confidence.

3. Your house is on fire, all living things and people are out. You have the opportunity to run in and grab one item. What would it be? A broken guitar that I love.

4. You are sitting on a bench overlooking a gorgeous beach. You have the opportunity to have a long conversation with anyone living or dead. Who would it be? C.S. Lewis. He’s been the biggest influence in my life and who I’ve modeled my career after.

5. What is the best advice you’ve ever received?  My mentor Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar said, “You’re never as great as you think you are and you’re never as bad as you think you are.”

6. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self? Make friends. If you want friends, you have to be a friend. Don’t let loneliness and insecurities stop you from feeling socially connected.

7. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read?  He made other people feel understood and that happiness was actually possible.


Pre-order your copy of IN AWE today to receive access to fun, interactive bonus features emailed to you in the lead-up to the book’s release! Visit ReadInAwe.com. 


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1 reply on “Happiness Amidst Coronavirus? Shawn Achor’s Take (ep. 236)”

Pockets of Happy – Receiving pictures of my Grandchildren via text from my Son. Viewing pictures of young friend’s children and their smiling faces and laughing spirits. Oh, these warm my soul!