Shawn Achor

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Shawn Achor is the NY Times bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage and Big Potential. Shawn graduated magna cum laude from Harvard and earned a master from Harvard Divinity School in Christian and Buddhist ethics. After spending 12 years at Harvard, Shawn traveled to 50 countries studying how to create an interconnected approach to potential and happiness. He has now worked with over a third of the Fortune 100 companies, and at places like NASA, the NFL, and the Pentagon.


Shawn has battle-tested his research in high-challenge environments from working with all the public schools in Flint Michigan to six battalions of Marines at Camp Pendleton to government leaders at Camp David to students in a shantytown in Soweto South Africa to hospitals in the wake of a mass shooting in Orlando and the Boston bombing. In every place Shawn has found optimism can be increased through mindset and behavioral change, and that by creating an interconnected approach to happiness and success, we shine brighter together. Shawn’s research made the cover of Harvard Business Review, his TED talk is one of the most popular of all time with over 25 million views, and his lecture airing on PBS has been seen by millions.


Shawn has two main talks, though he usually does a hybrid of the two. The Happiness Advantage is the research from his TED talk (25M+ views) in which he shows how happiness/mindset is a choice, happiness is an advantage (raising every business and educational outcome we know how to test for), and happiness is contagious in a culture.


Big Potential is based on Shawn's new research that expands beyond happiness to all of the potentials. The small potential is what we achieve when we pursue happiness and success individually in isolation, comparison, and competition. The big potential is only achieved by connecting to the "ecosystem of potential" around us and pursuing happiness and success in an interconnected way. For example, mountains perceived alone appear 20% steeper to the brain than a mountain of the same height perceived while standing next to someone who will climb it with you. With his deep background working with healthcare professionals in mind, Shawn describes how to surround yourself with the right people, expand power out, enhance others more effectively, defend the system, and sustain the gains. While he bases his talk on over a decade of ongoing research, his 60-minute talk has the energetic pacing, humor, and storytelling of his TED talk.


Speaking Topics: 


THE HAPPINESS ADVANTAGE: Linking Positive Brains to Performance


Most business is done under the guideline that: if you work harder, you will be more successful, and then you will be happy. This formula is scientifically backward. What over a decade of research shows is that training your brain to be positive first leads to greater success at work. Only 25% of job success is predicted by intelligence, the rest is determined by your optimism, social support network, and the ability to manage energy and stress positively. Based on Shawn’s book, The Happiness Advantage (2010), and research studying top performers at Harvard, the world’s largest bank and Fortune 500 companies, Shawn explains what positive psychology is, how much we can change, and practical applications and strategies for reaping the Happiness Advantage amid change and challenge.


THE RIPPLE EFFECT: How to Make Positive Change Easier


Common sense is not common action. This is because awareness does not necessarily equal transformation because we require a certain level of “activation energy” to start a change. Shawn’s research in the field of positive psychology reveals how small shifts in our mindset and behavior can ripple out to a team and even an entire organization. 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.


RESILIENT OPTIMISM: Restoring A Culture of Confidence


Confidence, trust, and job satisfaction are at historic lows. At the start of the economic collapse, Shawn worked with the world’s largest banks to restore confidence and forward progress. By researching the managers who maintained high levels of success and leadership during this challenging time, he found that our brains develop confidence based on the belief that our behavior matters towards creating the outcomes we desire. To overcome learned helplessness, we must create “wins” for our brains and train ourselves to be rational optimists. Based on the science of positive psychology and case studies of working with companies amid an economic collapse, Shawn provides practical applications for raising the belief that individual behavior matters and strategies to help leaders to keep teams motivated and engaged.




At schools and companies alike, we often are taught: “If I work harder, then I will be successful, and then I will be happy.” This formula is scientifically backward. Shawn explains how when we flip the formula, and focus on being positive first, we raise nearly every educational and business outcome. By demonstrating how happiness is a choice, we can help students not only cultivate positive habits and mindsets but achieve higher levels of success as a result. Based on Shawn’s study of 1600 Harvard students, his seven years as a Freshmen Proctor, and his subsequent work at schools and companies in over 50 countries, Shawn uses the latest research, interactive experiments, and humorous stories, to show how simple changes to our mindset and habits can bring this research to life and create happiness and success for our schools and ourselves.


POSITIVE GENIUS: The Key to Raising Success, Spreading Happiness & Sustaining Positive Change


Why are some people able to make great changes, while others stay the same? Based on the research in Before Happiness (2013) and cutting-edge positive psychology and neuroscience, Shawn takes us to the beginning of human potential. Each of us has a picture of reality, and this mental picture determines our likelihood of success and our ability to harness our brain’s IQ and emotional and social intelligence. Using his signature humor, new case studies, and interactive experiments that engage the audience, Shawn demonstrates how each of us can become a “positive genius,” someone who can continually use facts to see the most helpful and positive reality and then share this reality with others. In this program, participants will learn how to harness the latest research on managing stress that Shawn did with Yale University, how to navigate multiple realities at work, cancel internal and external noise, add vantage points to planning, use success accelerants to speed goal completion and use meaning markers to spread positive genius throughout a team, family and an entire organization.

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