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Happiness + Gratitude Expert Shawn Achor (ep. 408)

Shawn Achor

New York Times bestselling author and expert on the connection between happiness and success, Shawn Achor shares research and tips with John O’Leary on the Live Inspired Podcast.

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 12 years of earning dozens of distinguished teaching awards at Harvard University, Shawn became a New York Times bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential, delivered a TEDx with over 19 million views and has worked with over 30 Fortune 100 companies.

As we celebrate a season of thankfulness, today’s conversation will give you the tools to approach today, tomorrow and every day going forward with gratitude, optimism and happiness.

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  • 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 PotentialThe Happiness Advantage and Before Happiness.


If you enjoyed this conversation, listen to New York Times bestselling author Gregg Easterbrook. Our conversation is packed with reassuring, fact-based optimism that will inspire a positive perspective today and every day. Listen to Gregg Easterbrook on ep. 121 now.


About our sponsor: Keeley Companies wholeheartedly believes that if you get the people right -the results will follow. They set themselves apart with a forward-thinking culture that empowers their people and fosters loyal partnerships. Keeley Companies are a proud sponsor, partner, and super fan of the Live Inspired Podcast. Learn more about Keeley Companies.


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  1. Q. What is the best book you’ve ever read?
    A. The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis.
  2. Q. What is a characteristic or trait that you possessed as a child that you wish you still exhibited today?
    A. Confidence.
  3. Q. 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. A broken guitar that I love.
  4. Q. 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? 
    A. C.S. Lewis. He’s been the biggest influence in my life and who I’ve modeled my career after.
  5. Q. What is the best advice you’ve ever received? 
    A. 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. Q. What advice would you give your 20-year-old self? 
    A. 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. Q. It’s been said that all great people can have their lives summed up in one sentence. How do you want yours to read? 
    A. He made other people feel understood and that happiness was actually possible.