Tal Ben Shahar, “The Happiness Guru”, at CESA School of Business

The essence of Positive Psychology focuses on what works. If we want to fulfill our desire for well being and success, we need to change the questions we’re asking. In other words, asking ourselves and others what’s working before what’s not working, and what strengths we have, before what weaknesses. This is how Tal Ben Shahar, “The Happiness Guru”, started his conference for CESA School of Business on September 23rd.

The secret to happiness, said Shahar, has to do with reality, strength, and passion. He assures that happiness is what makes some individuals success despite unfavorable circumstances. Happiness, according to Tal Ben Shahar, reduces levels of anxiety, violence, increases creativity and productivity and increases resilience, our ability to bounce back, among many other side effects.

“The question is not can we eliminate hardship, is how can we go through it,  we need resilience” said Shahar, adding that a sense of purpose or meaning in the things we do, is essential.

Shahar shared a few case studies in order for the audience to understand that happiness is a measurable science based on research. On a University of British Columbia and Harvard University study, they measured happiness by giving people money to buy something for themselves. Once they bought something with that money, people showed higher levels of wellbeing and happiness. However, the next day they were back at their original levels.

Next, they gave the same people money, but this time, they had to use it on someone else. After buying something for another person, the people in the study showed increased levels of happiness and wellbeing just like the first day, though, the difference was in their levels of happiness the next day. They had stayed increased whereas on the first occasion, they went back to normal. Tal Ben Shahar called this: a “short-term high” versus a “long-term high”. This study proved that giving, or helping others, brings us more satisfaction than buying something for ourselves.

Tal Ben Shahar went on by sharing with the audience a series of rituals that induce happiness. Some of the practices he shared were: finding a role model, focusing on your strengths, accepting the fact that we all experience human emotions, expressing gratitude, reducing multi-tasking for periods of time, and, the most important, exercising, which he assures its scientifically proven to have the same effect on psychological well being as psychiatric medication.

The two most important questions to ask ourselves in order to find happiness, according to Shahar are:

1. What are you good at? What are your strengths?
2. What gives you strength? What energizes you?

“The overlap between these two questions, brings peak performance, and peak experience”  - Tal Ben Shahar.

“Do we need to wait for something extraordinary to happen?” asked Shahar. “The answer is no. The most important thing is that we define our reality by asking the right questions. You know you are happy when you experience it, just like beauty.”

Tal Ben Shahar answered a few questions after his conference, and left a special message to CESA Students. Listen to his answers.

You used to teach Positive Psychology at Harvard, the most popular course at the time. However, you started with eight students. Was there any kind of resistance from Harvard University, a highly research - oriented institution, When you first introduced the subject into the curriculum? In other words, was it hard to pitch at a time where the subject wasn’t very widely accepted/known?


Your course at Harvard went from 8 to 900 students in a year. You’ve said the reason is your students felt happier at the end of the course, and other students found out by word of mouth. What tools did you give students in the course in order for them to feel happier? In what ways were they happier?


How do you link happiness to professional success? Is every successful person happy? Are happy people more likely to be professionally successful?


Do you believe everyone should work a job they feel passionate about even if it doesn’t bring as much economic reward as other jobs they’re qualified for? Won’t economic stress bring more unhappiness?


In other interviews you’ve explained that before measuring happiness, it is important to define what it means. What does it mean to be happy?


What role does spirituality play in the search for happiness?


Multi-tasking is inherent in most professionals now a days, so is being connected and reachable 24/7. How is this affecting people’s wellbeing and job satisfaction? What do you consider managers can do in order to increase levels of happiness at work, and what benefits will that bring?


You gave a conference at CESA School of Business earlier today titled: “The Science of Happiness and Positive Leadership: Strategies for Success.” Why is it important to introduce these topics in higher education?


Whats ´your message for CESA students?