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Talbenshahar1

By Sunita Sehmi, Walk The Talk

Happy New Year and what better way to start the New Year with an uplifting piece on Happiness!

American and Israeli teacher, and writer in the areas of positive psychology and leadership, Tal Ben-Shahar, was born 1970. As a lecturer at Harvard University, Tal created the most popular course in Harvard's history. Influenced by the pioneering work of Dr Martin Seligman, the world-renowned founder of positive psychology, Tal Ben-Shahar states that his goal in teaching positive psychology "is to create a bridge between the Ivory Tower and Main Street.”

In addition to his work at Harvard, Tal consults and lectures around the world to executives in multi-national corporations, the general public, and at-risk populations, addressing such topics as happiness, self-esteem, resilience, goal setting, mindfulness, and leadership. I was incredibly lucky to have interviewed him: as you will read, he really walks the talk! Enjoy!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself...I was born in Israel, in 1970. When I was 11 I picked up squash, and that essentially took up all of my time outside of school and sleep. I ended up playing professionally for a few years, until I got injured and had to give up my aspiration of becoming world champion. At the age of 22 I went to Harvard, started studying computer science, was not happy, and switched to philosophy and psychology.

“Organisations are realising that they need to invest in their employees' happiness as an end in itself, and also as a means toward higher profits. Happiness pays!”

2. What is positive psychology? Positive psychology focuses on flourishing, on the individual and societal levels--on topics such as happiness, self-esteem, optimism, and joy. This is in contrast with the more prevalent focus in psychology on pathology--on neurosis, anxiety, and depression.

In addition, positive psychology focuses primarily on what works, whether in individuals, relationships, and organisations. For example, a traditional marriage counsellor's first implicit or explicit question to a couple would be "What is wrong with your relationship?" This is an important question, but it's not enough. A positive psychologist would first ask, "What is working in your relationship? What are the strengths of each of you, and of you as a couple? What do you admire/appreciate about one another?" After establishing what is working, the counsellor would then go on to the next stage which is dealing with what is not working. By starting out with what works, there is more likelihood of success. These positive questions should not only be asked when things go wrong. They are potentially preventative in nature, strengthening the relationship so that it can deal with the inevitable hardships that arise over time. The same approach applies to individuals and to organisations. For example, the questions of an organisational behaviourist trained in positive psychology can be, “What is working in the organisation? What has worked? What can we learn from that?” That is a good platform for dealing with the challenges.

“Most people believe that success leads to happiness, while actually the opposite is true. Increase your levels of happiness and you’re likely to become more successful,"

3. How did you end up in happiness research? Initially, what got me interested in studying happiness was my own unhappiness. I was doing well as an undergraduate student at Harvard, I was a top athlete, I had a good social life—and I was unhappy. It was then that I realised that the internal matters more to one's levels of wellbeing than the external, and it was then that I got into psychology. After studying positive psychology, and benefiting from it, I wanted to share what I learned with others.

4. Could you tell us more about your vision and mission? My mission is to bring happiness to people’s lives by creating a bridge between the Ivory Tower and Main Street. I want to make research accessible to individuals, schools, organisations, and nations.

“What is working in the organisation? What has worked? What can we learn from that?” That is a good platform for dealing with the challenges.”

5. Are company leaders and top management responsive to your work? Very much so, and increasingly so by the day. Most people believe that success will lead to wellbeing. Their mental model is:

Success (cause) Happiness (effect)

But most people have it wrong. We know from a great deal of research that success, at best, leads to a spike in one's happiness levels, but the spike is temporary, ephemeral. But while success does not lead to wellbeing, the opposite is the case:

Success (effect) Happiness (cause)

This is a very important finding, turning the cause-and-effect relationship around and correcting the misperception that so many people have. The reason for the above is that when we experience positive emotions we are more creative, more motivated, form better relationships, and are physically healthier. Organisations are realising that they need to invest in their employees' happiness as an end in itself, and also as a means toward higher profits. Happiness pays!

6. How do you see the corporate work life in the future? Challenging. The lack of real relationships—relying on social media—is a problem for happiness, and hence for productivity, innovation, and health.

I’m putting together the blueprint for an interdisciplinary field of happiness studies, that will focus on the wellbeing of the whole person.

7. What is the best piece of advice you ever got? Be true to your values.

8. Your advice for us…If things aren’t going well at work, what can we do? Give yourself permission to be human. In other words, allow yourself to feel down, sad, upset, and so on. It’s natural. When we accept emotions -- such as fear, sadness, or anxiety -- as natural, we are more likely to overcome them. Rejecting our emotions, positive or negative, leads to frustration and unhappiness. The paradox is that when we accept our feelings—when we give ourselves the permission to be human and experience painful emotions—we are more likely to open ourselves up to positive emotions.
 
9. What’s the next challenge for the us? Moral relativism: the belief that there is no right and wrong, good or evil, and that all values are equally valid.

10. What's next for you? I’m putting together the blueprint for an interdisciplinary field of happiness studies, that will focus on the wellbeing of the whole person (Whole being). The focus is on spiritual wellbeing, physical wellbeing, intellectual wellbeing, relational wellbeing, and emotional wellbeing.

Reference:

For more information about Tal's great work go to http://www.talbenshahar.com/

Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfilment

Sunita's Bio

sunitablogphoto nov2015

Sunita is an Executive Coach, Trainer and Consultant. She is of Indian origin and was born in London before moving to Geneva in 1992. She has a Psychology background (specialising in Occupational Psychology) and a Post Graduate in the Development and Training of Adults. She also completed a Masters in Ressources Humaines, Coaching et Gestion des Carrières at the University of Geneva.

During her 25 years experience Sunita's drive has always been to help people to do their best and hence led her to create Walk The Talk.

In her free time Sunita is a Mentor for the Branson Center of Entrepreneurship and a proud member of the School in The Cloud Team.

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