Happiness: a matter of science for Tal Ben-Shahar

Feb 25th, 2021

Tal Ben-Shahar, the well-known Professor, responsible for one of Harvard University’s most popular courses on “Positive Psychology” and Happiness, was a guest speaker at AESE, on February 25th, 2021.


More than 1000 participants attended the webinar, carried out within the scope of the AESE Alumni Assembly Itinerary, which will be hold on June 25 th, 2021.


From stress to the need for recovery, Tal Ben-Shahar elaborated on the human being’s ability to manage a stressed situation for his own benefit, respecting his vitality and self-regulation.


Professor Ben-Shahar believes that relationships are the primary source of happiness. According to several studies presented, interpersonal relationships are the main reason for happiness, health, and growth. Cultivating them personally or professionally depends on the generosity on giving, listening and being kind to others. The effect is multiplier and likely to be confirmed. A leader capable of stimulating an environment where each team member feels safe, capable of asking questions and adding value without fear, will make any company more competitive, sustainable, and happy.


Due to the theme “The Science of Happiness: Leadership Strategies for Success in Difficult Times”, Tal Ben-Shahar responded to an AESE’s interview:



What made you so interested about studying happiness in a business perspective, teaching it so successfully at Harvard or at Columbia Universities?
TBS: “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 well-paying job and good professional prospects—and I was unhappy.  It was then that I realized 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.”



How can the science of Happiness help leaders inspire their teams ad business become more a successful?
TBS: “Happiness is a good investment for organizations.  You see, most people believe that success will lead to happiness—and there are wrong.  Their mental model is:


Success (cause) >  Happiness  (effect)


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, short-lived.  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 pleasurable emotions we are more creative, more motivated, form better relationships, and are physically healthier.  Organizations should invest in their employees’ happiness as an end in itself, and also as a means toward higher profits.  Happiness pays!”



What would you suggest executives and managers to help their people to learn, grow and become more strong and happy, specially nowadays?
TBS: “First, companies can help their employees identify and exercise their strengths.  People who know and use their strengths are happier, more motivated, and more successful in the workplace.


Second, they provide what Harvard Professor Amy Edmondson calls Psychological Safety, which is the confidence that no member of the team would be embarrassed or punished if she spoke out, asked for assistance, or failed in a specific task.  When team leaders create a climate of psychological safety, when members feel comfortable “failing” and then sharing and discussing their mistakes, all members of the team can learn and improve.  In contrast, when mistakes are concealed, learning is less likely to take place, and the likelihood that errors will be repeated is higher.


Third, they encourage employees to exercise regularly.  Regular physical exercise—as little as three weekly sessions of thirty minutes each—has the same effect as our most powerful psychiatric medication.  The workplace will be a happier place, a more creative place, and a less stressful place if the employees started a physical exercise regime.


And finally, they encourage employees to take regular breaks during the day, and then have time to recover when they’re at home.  Being “on” all the time is not helpful for the individual employee, nor for the organization.  More is not necessarily better.  We need to recharge our psychological batteries.  Creativity and productivity actually go down when there are no times for recovery throughout the day (fifteen minutes of downtime every hour or two), week (at least one day off), and year (a real vacation once every six or twelve months).”



Taking into account all your journey, are you still a perfectionist or an optimalist? How did your self-aware helped you becoming the Tal Ben-Shahar we know today?

TBS: “I am certainly happier today than I was 30 years ago when I embarked on my journey.  At the same time, I hope to be happier in five or ten years than I am today.  Happiness is not an end point to be reached, but rather a journey—a journey that ends when life ends.”



At the end of the session, AESE Alumni and their guests deepened some of the topics mentioned, asking the speaker some questions.

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2020 Copyright AESE Business School :: Todos os direitos reservados