55 of 67 people found the following review helpful
on May 24, 2013
Mr. Achor repeatedly trumpets his Harvard ties so I wanted to learn more about his background. What I found was both disappointing and quite surprising. Mr. Achor refers repeatedly but obliquely to his decade of "research at harvard" and implies that he has scientifically proved that happiness leads to success, while leaning heavily on the harvard name to lend credibility to his claims. Yet for all the pages spent on chummy stories about harvard, he never actually gets around to telling us, specifically, what research he did, how he did it, or what the data revealed. A casual reader might not even notice that sleight of hand. He just refers to it in generalities. Ok. Let's search Google Scholar to see what Mr. Achor has published on the link between happiness and success. Surprise! There are zero publications. Mr. Achor has never published a single solitary scientific paper in his life! At this point I'm feeling just plain lied to.
How could this guy be a Harvard professor? Well, a quick search of the internet tells us that Shawn is not and never was a harvard professor, and has no current affiliation to harvard at all. In fact, he seems to use every trick he can to get us to think he's a famous and popular professor without ever quite claiming that he is (I'm guessing Harvard's lawyers would have a field day with him otherwise, or maybe they already have). He's treading a very careful and deceptive line to inflate his qualifications far beyond the reality. He *was* once a student at Harvard (it looks like he got a master's degree in divinity -- not a science, the last time I checked). Even the lowliest faculty job at a mediocre university (much less Harvard) would require a PhD, which Shawn does not have. Shawn refers obliquely in his book to his decade of "research at harvard" but, as I noted above, if you search Google Scholar, you will see he has never published any credible scientific research at all. Zero. Nothing. It is unclear whether he has ever had any scientific training of any kind, or if his "research" involved anything other than sitting around in his dorm room. He says he is a "harvard-trained researcher" but a master's in divinity isn't scientific training and, again, there is no record of his participation in any actual research and no mention of the actual scientists he worked with. He certainly hasn't done any credible scientific research proving that "happiness leads to success." What he does appear to have done, and I say this as a petty, jealous graduate student scraping by on a tiny stipend, is make a lot of money. Selling himself as a harvard scientist (which he is not), he appears to charge huge speaking fees (as in, more for one speech than I make in a year) to hear about his "research." That sounds to me like someone chasing success, not happiness. I am hugely sympathetic to the ideas this book contains, but given how much the author is distorting his own qualifications for personal gain I worry that he is distorting the science as well.
UPDATE in response to comments:
I agree completely. If he had just let the content speak for itself, I would have no complaints. Plenty of people without special qualifications write decent books. The book is easy to read, easy to understand, and has useful points even if I don't find much of it to be truly new. Based on the average review here on Amazon, people seem to feel like they are getting value out of it. That's great.
With the way he harps on harvard over and over, and implies that he is a famous and popular professor at harvard who has done legitimate scientific research, however, it just feels slimy to me and like he is trying to fool his readers. It sounds like you have confirmation from connections at harvard that he is inflating his qualifications. Very interesting.
I can assure you that I have read the book quite carefully. If I ignore the author's self-inflation, it's largely a decent book. If you're asking me to evaluate the content of the book, I will admit that I do find much of Happiness Advantage to be fairly derivative once I scratch below the surface. That's actually why I bothered to look into Mr. Achor's qualifications in the first place. I was expecting a harvard professor to be talking about his cool original research that I wouldn't have heard about elsewhere, but then I read through the whole book and realized that even though he kept referring to his research he never actually presented ANY data from his own original research. That seemed fishy to me, and so I bothered to look into who this guy was, and my review is the result.
The overall narrative is novel -- happiness is the key to success (but success doesn't make you happy). I don't know enough to determine if he's correct, but it's an interesting idea. But once you get to the supporting details, it's largely (though certainly not entirely) a rehash of other people's ideas. No other book talks about the "Zorro Circle," but plenty of books talk about starting daunting tasks with small doable steps (the same thing but without the fancy name). Plenty of books talk about the power of habits in determining our behavior or the value of social relationships for happiness. Mr. Achor even talks in the book about reading other books to get content for his book. But whether the ideas are derivative doesn't matter if the ideas are new to you. The content of lots of books are derivative and people still read them and get value from them. Heck, there is value is hearing the same idea a bunch of times because maybe, eventually, it will really sink in. In any event, the author does a good job communicating these ideas, and his overarching narrative is more original. If it weren't for the dishonesty, I'd probably give the content of the book 3 stars. It's not terribly original, but it's well-written, practical, and a quick, easy read.
I just think he's being dishonest about his qualifications and the basis for his ideas in order to sell more books and charge higher speaking fees. It rubs me the wrong way and I think his readers are getting tricked, as are the companies that are paying big money to hear him speak about his "research." What's sad is that it's unnecessary and I think the deception will catch up with him eventually. For better or worse, there are plenty of authors who write bestsellers without any real qualifications, and they don't feel the need to lie about it.
If you can find any actual evidence that Mr. Achor (a) has a PhD (b) has ever been the actual instructor for a class at Harvard -- i.e., the one actually teaching the class, not just a teaching assistant (c) conducted ANY peer-reviewed scientific research that is cited in Happiness Advantage or (d) was ever a Professor at Harvard, I will stand corrected. Mr. Achor may have done a good job in making you think that some or all of these things are true, but if you dig a little deeper I think you will find that they are all false.
@MM of FS
I appreciate your weighing in. I think your comments will help us all be clearer about Shawn's credentials are and are not. As I stated in my original review, Shawn was a harvard student -- an undergraduate student and then a master's student in divinity. And, as is clear in reading his book and on the internet but I should have made clearer in my review - he was a teaching fellow for a psychology class at harvard. That's all fine so far, and true as far as I know; I have no reason to doubt it. Shawn was clearly at Harvard - he isn't making EVERYTHING up. Check.
However, those things aren't what I find dishonest about how Shawn represents his credentials and I think he has managed to pull the wool over your eyes as well. Reading Shawn's book it sounds like he is a harvard professor who conducted legitimate scientific research about happiness and performance.
Shawn was NOT the instructor/professor for the positive psychology course (it was Tal Ben-Shahar -- see his interview on the Daily Show about it, for example).
I see no record that Shawn has ever been the instructor for any class at harvard. He was a teaching fellow (what harvard calls their teaching assistants), but that's not remotely the same thing. Professors at a place like Harvard/Yale/Stanford/etc are world-class leaders in their fields, whereas teaching assistants are usually graduate students in the subject (sometimes someone who graduated college just a year earlier).
Shawn was NEVER a professor at harvard
Shawn did NOT receive a PhD from harvard or anywhere else -- the minimum requirement for being an actual professor and, usually (but not always), for conducting original scientific research.
I can find no record of any actual scientific training Shawn received. I don't know what his undergraduate degree was in, but a master's degree in divinity is not scientific training.
Shawn did NOT conduct ANY peer-reviewed research whatsoever contained in the book The Happiness Advantage. He talks over and over and over again all about his "research" but I can find no record of any peer-reviewed research he conducted anywhere in the book. If you can find citations for peer-reviewed research Shawn led that is contained in the book The Happiness Advantage, please tell us all the page numbers where we can dig into the details of his alleged scientific research. As far as I can tell, there are ZERO. Heck, I'd be happy to see some graphs of actual data he collected, even if they aren't peer reviewed.
So, in short, I'm not saying Shawn is completely lying about his connection to Harvard. But I think he is taking tiny morsels of truth (undergrad student and divinity master's student at harvard, teaching assistant) and grossly exaggerating them to mislead his readers to think he is/was a professor at harvard, that he is a legitimate and trained scientist, and that he performed legitimate scientific research to produce the book The Happiness Advantage. He seems to do everything he can to conceal these facts from the reader and to inflate his own importance and qualifications. It's dishonest and I think readers deserve to know the facts.
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2015
Did you know Shawn Achor went to Harvard?
No really. I’m quite certain of it. He only mentioned it about 27 times in this book, so it was kind of subtle, but if you read between the lines you too can pick up this hidden gem.
I promise not to mention it again – because it was the only glaring annoyance in this otherwise useful book.
This book could also be called: The Placebo Effect.
It is very very VERY real. People dismiss the effect of thought on our physical body – and it’s HUGE.
Thought is what leads to hormone release. Perception of fear releases adrenaline. Perception of happiness releases Dopamine. This book discusses Oxytocin and Cortisol and many other hormones and it points out the absolutely real physiological effects of each.
Doing the exact same physical activity, with the thought that you are exercising – leads to more weight loss and increased muscle gain. HORMONES matter. THOUGHT matters.
Being “happy” can kill pain better than narcotics. Exercising can cure depression better than antidepressants.
Being Happy decreases heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and many other PHYSICAL diseases.
This is not about positive affirmations or “think a happy thought.” This book is not Peter Pan advice to help us fly away from tragic lives.
This book is science. Research study after research study proving that our mental outlook on life makes a HUGE difference in our physical health, our finances, our family, our friends, our entire existence.
This book is very worthwhile – because the author doesn’t just say “Get Happy” – He gives you specific tasks and practices to accomplish it.
My favorite chapter was “Principle #6: The 20 Second Rule”
It talks all about "activation energy."
It takes very little energy to keep a signal running along a nerve. But it takes a burst of energy to start the flow. You have to provide enough “activation energy” to start it. Kind of like getting a car rolling on a flat road. You have to put in a ton of energy to push the car from a dead stop but once it’s going it doesn’t take much to keep it going.
It is the same way with habits. Habits are very hard to start. Forming them can be a nightmare.
The answer – DECREASE the activation energy. Make it as simple as possible to do the habit each day.
What ever you want to do: put it in your natural path. Take away all need for decision making. Make it harder NOT to do the new thing.
If you want to exercise first thing in the morning – sleep in your gym clothes.
If you want to learn to play the guitar – keep the guitar in the middle of the room where you will almost run into it every time you walk through your house.
The same is true for habits you want to STOP. Make it much much HARDER to do the thing you want to stop.
If you check your e-mail WAY too often and you want to stop – delete your shortcut, and don’t let the computer remember your password.
Make it require time, energy, and a whole lot of work to do the WRONG thing.
This chapter is genius. The entire book is good.
I recommend it.
Here are two of my favorite quotes from the book:
"Common sense is not common action." - p. 146
"Coercing employees into awkward icebreakers or forced bonding activities, like making everyone at a meeting share something about their private lives, only breeds disconnection and mistrust. Better that these moments happen organically - which they will if the environment is right. The best leaders give their employees the space and time to let moments of social connection develop on their own" - p. 193
14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on June 14, 2012
From my blog:
Title: The Happiness Advantage
Author: Shawn Achor
Pages: 210 hardcover
Summary: The idea of this book is that a lot of psychology research over the past few decades has shown that people are much more productive, creative and ultimately successful in all aspects of life if they are happy. This covers happiness in terms of deep satisfaction with the direction of your life and shallower happiness of feeling appreciated and cared about by the people around you, etc. The book presents the evidence throughout with actual studies that have shown these results and talks about studies that have shown how people can increase their happiness in their life with deliberate steps, such as purposefully noticing the nice things that happen during the day and purposefully giving other people compliments. It tends towards advice to managers about how to increase their employees productivity, but as someone who isn't a manager currently, it was still helpful.
I'm generally a happy person and have found evidence in my own life that I am much more productive when I maintain that happiness, but it was nice to get reassurance that I'm not crazy and advice that I will keep in the back of my mind for when times are tough (ie in grad school) of how to continue to maintain a happier mindset.
This book is definitely pop science and some of his explanations of scientific studies gave this science major the heeby jeebies, but for the most part it looks like good science and good advice for people who really want to reach that upper crust of performance in their lives but don't know what they are doing wrong.
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