The Force of Curiosity with Francesca Gino and The Perception of Happiness with Silvia Garcia

One of the ingredients of a happy life is staying curious. Curiosity makes people search for answers and meaning, which later on lead them to happiness, growth, and exploration. Francesca Gino, Founder & CEO of Feel Logic and author of Rebel Talent, shares the five talents of a rebel and the intriguing positive side of breaking rules. As she gives details about her recent business case, she dives into the benefits of curiosity and effective ways to strengthen this interest.


If staying curious helps our brains release dopamine because we discover new things, then it is definitely a good source of happiness. Silvia Garcia, CEO of Happiest Places to Work, is an expert that can attest to that. As an annual guest of the United Nations to discuss the state of happiness in the world, she imparts how to fix the way we perceive things in order to be happy and reveals the kinds and enemies of happiness. On top of that, she uncovers how the perception of happiness differs globally.

TTL 321 | Happiness

I’m glad you joined us because we have Dr. Francesca Gino and Silvia Garcia. Francesca is a Harvard Business School professor. She’s the author of Rebel Talent. She wrote such a great piece on curiosity. That’s a part of her book. Silvia is the Founder and CEO of Feel Logic. She’s a speaker and author and she is an expert on happiness. She’s always at the UN speaking. This is going to be one of the more fascinating shows at least from my perspective. I’m excited about it.

Listen to the podcast here

The Force of Curiosity with Francesca Gino

TTL 321 | Happiness
Rebel Talent: Why It Pays to Break the Rules at Work and in Life

I am here with Francesca Gino. She is a behavioral scientist and professor at Harvard Business School. She is the author of Rebel Talent. I’ve been excited to talk to you. Welcome.

Thank you so much for having me.

This is going to be fun. You’re welcome. You are studying a lot of the things that I’m interested in. I got to watch some of your work. You did a great job at your talk to Google. You talk about being a rebel. It’s not status quo thinking, which is what I’m interested in. Before we get into that a little bit, can you give a little background? How do you get to be a Harvard Business School professor? That’s a big deal. Give me a little background if you wouldn’t mind.

It’s a bit by chance. I had started doing my PhD back in Italy as part of this program. They were trying to be experimental and the idea was to go abroad to start working on a dissertation. I decided instead to leave in my second year. I decided to come to Harvard as a visiting student and I never went back. I love the people that I met here. They were supportive. They were interesting. I ended up doing research with them and sticking around rather than going back.

I’ve had a lot of great Harvard professors. I had Ellen Langer and John Kotter. I love your book. I love the idea of the Rebel Talent. What made you interested in writing that?

For many years, I studied rule-breaking in the moral sphere. I was looking at people who cheat, steal and lie. I was trying to understand what it is that organizations could do to prevent that and to make sure that people do not engage in misconduct. In time, I started to notice a different side of rule-breaking, people who break the rules but end up driving positive change and doing something constructive for their organizations. These were the people who did not lie or cheat. Instead, they were quite genuine in their spirit of rebellion. They were coming up with all sorts of creative ideas and innovative ways of thinking. That’s where I turned my attention to try to decode the recipe to success.

You use words that people would think of rebels as show-offs, jerks, annoying, troublemakers and an outcast. Where does Steve Jobs fall into all of that? You mentioned that a little bit in your talk.

We have this precise idea of what rebels are in business. When I ask people to think about the rebels, they often mentioned Steve Jobs. He’s an incredibly creative and innovative thinker. If you pay attention to the stories, he’s also not a person that you might want to have as an employee or as a colleague or as a boss because he’s not easy to work with. I was interested in looking at rebels who were not only effective in the way of creativity and innovation but they were also good to have around in terms of the interactions that you’re going to have with them. When I think about rebels, one of the people that come to mind that inspired the project is the chef and owner of a three-Michelin-star restaurant that became the best restaurant in the world in 2016 and then again in 2018. It’s an Italian restaurant called Osteria Francescana.

What’s interesting about this chef is that he went to traditional Italian dishes and decided to reinvent them. I’m not sure how much you know about Italians but two things are true. There are lots of rules when it comes to cooking from the way you pair a certain sauce to a certain type of pasta. Secondly, we cherish our old ways, especially when it comes to traditional dishes to recipes that have been passed on for generations. Here you had a chef who went to do this almost secret context and started asking questions with a lot of curiosity. He said, “Why is it that we cook the dishes this way? Maybe it made sense many years ago, but not now.” He came up with his version of the dishes that are quite innovative and he’s been successful. That’s a type of rebel that you’d find in the book.

Where is this restaurant located?

It’s in Modena, Italy.

[bctt tweet=”When we’re curious, we end up working more collaboratively.” via=”no”]

There’s something important to say about the talents that you share in your book. You said that rebels share five talents. Do you want to share what those are?

They’re a talent for novelty, a talent for curiosity, a talent for perspective, a talent for diversity and a talent for authenticity.

All of them are important. I love how much your HBR article was shared. It was everywhere. My curiosity was piqued because every time I saw it, there was a different graphic associated with it. Did you do that on purpose?

I did not.

I’m thinking, “That used to be a cat and now it’s a different kind of cat.” I started following it on different sites to see if somebody was either changing the default graphic or you did some technology that I’ve got to figure out. Your article was titled The Business Case for Curiosity. You talk about important insights about curiosity as it relates to business. I would like to know a little bit about the survey you did to more than 3,000 employees and what you’re trying to find from that.

I’m trying to understand why it is that if I think about all the leaders I talked to or I have in my classes. They seem to recognize that curiosity is important. They seem to always agree with the fact that if we think about making sure that people stay engaged in the work that they do and they come up with creative ideas, curiosity is an important ingredient. Somehow, the data tells a different story. When I collected data from this sample of over 3,000 employees from all sorts of industries and firms, only 24% of them indicated feeling curious about their job on a regular basis. More than 70% of them said that they face barriers as to staying curious and asking more questions at work. That’s puzzling because on the other side, you have these leaders who say, “Curiosity is important to the business.” I wanted to try to understand why there is such a mismatch and what it is that leaders need to do in order to model curiosity and encourage curiosity in their businesses.

When I was researching, I wrote a book called Cracking the Curiosity Code and I created this assessment the Curiosity Code Index. I’d look at some of the curiosity assessments out there and they were all based on if you were curious or not levels. I wanted to find out what kept people from being curious. That’s what I was measuring. I found four factors that impact curiosity, which was fear, assumptions, technology and the environment. A lot of environmental things fall into the boss shutting you down but it also overlapped a little bit with fear. You have a fear of your bosses shutting you down. It was fascinating to me to do this research. That’s why I was excited to discuss with you why it’s important. What do you think are the benefits of curiosity? I’d love to know how you assess the impact of innovation as well.

TTL 321 | Happiness
Happiness: Research shows that curiosity is an important driver of innovation and creative thinking.


There are interesting studies on curiosity that showed that it can be quite beneficial to what may appear an obvious finding. It’s quite helpful and important. There is research that shows that curiosity is an important driver of innovation and creative thinking. This is research that uses both data that comes from experimental studies where it’s easier to measure curiosity of a product or the creativity of an idea. It’s also from fieldwork where you can look at how innovative products are that are put on websites for sale. If you think about a website like Etsy, you can look at the products and judge them for their creativity and how much innovative they are. That’s one side, research linking curiosity to innovation. There is also research that looks at how curiosity can improve decision-making. What I found is that when people feel curious or when their curiosity has encouraged the trigger, they’re much less likely to engage in a common bias that affects our decisions which is the confirmation bias.

You’re looking for information that tends to suggest that you’re right rather than looking for information that might tell you that you’re wrong. Curiosity seems to have all these positive effects on our decision-making processes because it helps us to consider alternatives. When we’re curious, it’s not that we are focusing on one answer but we’re thinking much more broadly about alternatives and with that comes better decision-making. There is research done inside of teams and groups. Curiosity is important there also because when we’re curious, we end up working more collaboratively. Part of why that happens is that with curiosity comes the questions asked. We’re much more likely to uncover information that is important to solve problems within a team or within groups.

It’s interesting to see some of the benefits, all the teamwork and things like that. I’m also interested in how it correlated with reactions to stress and empathy. I wrote my dissertation on emotional intelligence, which got me interested in all these personalities and great behavioral things. It’s a big part of helping with empathy. What did you find with that?

I also look to add how curiosity can reduce conflict inside of a group or inside of teams or inside of collaborations. That is because when you’re curious, you don’t get stuck on your perspective of the issue and of the problem, but you end up being more open to the perspective and view of others. It’s very much linked to this idea of empathy and even to the idea of your melody. All of a sudden, you’re coming into international thinking that you have all the right answers but that others might be helpful too.

We’ve been talking about curiosity for a long time. If you’d ask Bill Gates or Warren Buffett, they all say that’s what made them successful to some extent. Do you think your curiosity is the spark to motivation? Which comes first in your mind?

In my mind, curiosity comes first because with curiosity you have this desire to explore. You have this desire to reach out. I have some hot off the press data that shows that curiosity leads us to diversify our networks and thus, collaborate with others more effectively. If you think about what curiosity does, it’s almost as if it’s increasing the motivation to reach out to other people or explore problems from a different angle. I would put that first.

That’s what I was finding in my research. I thought it was interesting because it seems that all the problems that organizations have from innovation and critical thinking, everything kept coming back to curiosity. That was why I was fascinated by it. I love some of the stories you shared about Ford and GM and how curiosity declines after being in a job for a while. Can you explain that?

[bctt tweet=”When you’re curious, you don’t get stuck on your own perspective but you end up being more open to the perspective and view of others.” via=”no”]

I was looking at data from children development partly because I have three small children. I was approaching the data with the curious side. What the data shows is that we’re all born with a lot of curiosity. In fact, curiosity tends to peak at the age of four and five and unfortunately, it declines steadily from there. I started thinking that maybe when children are at their schools and there is a lot of focus on getting things done and learning the tasks, those might be a factor that pushed curiosity away. I started thinking that maybe in an organization you would see a similar phenomenon. I looked at hundreds of employees joining a new organization across industries and across jobs. I measured their level of curiosity. There are great scales now that we can use to assess curiosity. I went back to the same people six to eight months later. What was surprising is that there was a decline. In fact across the board, curiosity dropped by 20%. It’s a missed opportunity for all good things and reasons. It can have such a powerful effect in the organizations and it seemed puzzling that so much more curiosity gets shut down as we enter new jobs.

A lot of what I hear from older people that have been around in the workplace for a long time is that they used to look at it as insubordination if people asked questions. It was something that I see a change in younger generations. Have you seen that at all or is that just my experience?

What is interesting about the new generation is it’s less sufficient in a sense for organizations where you find yourself working and you don’t feel excited or satisfied. Thanks to all the technology available to us, it’s easier to find or be aware of jobs where others could be feeling better about the work that they do. It’s easier for people to jump and say, “I’m not going to tolerate this. I’m going to move on.”

I had a job for many years and you never hear about that anymore. Things are changing. I’m interested in ways that we can help people with this to build their curiosity and to make them feel more engaged at work. Another thing I thought came back to curiosity was engagement. There are five ways to bolster curiosity in that article at least. I’m curious if you want to share some of them.

I was interested in not only pointing to the possible problem but by making sure that we could solve the curiosity crisis. What I was trying to suggest is that there are very simple solutions. In most organizations I worked with or researched with, I noticed that people tend to have performance goals, which is great. We want to make sure that people perform according to certain expectations and this opportunity would allow keeping the curiosity alive is emphasizing learning goals. By the very fact that you in your job not only have performance goals but you also have to learn goals that can be quite helpful in keeping curiosity alive. Those can be decided in discussions with your boss or with your colleagues. It’s important for them to be identified so that you’re not just performing in your job, but you’re also thinking about what it is that you’re learning.

The other one is to be the first one to model for curiosity or to model inquisitiveness. It’s easy for all of us to feel the pressure in the job that we do and that we’ve done, exploit or use opportunities where we can model curiosity for others. Rather than entering a meeting with a clear sense of what we should be doing, what if we were the first to say, “Why is it that we’re going down these paths?” and we offer other alternatives. There are simple moments in the life of every leader that can make a difference because we’re modeling behavior for others. Modeling is contagious.

Another one that I’ve seen in a few different organizations is the idea of exploring and broadening people’s interests. It is giving people the opportunity to explore something that is not highly related to the work that they do. Companies have done this in different ways. There are organizations that give some money or donations to their workers so that they can get degrees that might not be necessarily helpful for the job that they have but allow them to explore interests. There is an intelligent organization that gives people a cultural budget so that you can go to museums or other artistic type events to open your mind. Those are paid by the company itself. To the extent that it’s possible to broaden people’s interests and broaden their perspective, that is an interesting opportunity for leaders.

TTL 321 | Happiness
Happiness: It’s important for all of us to understand which talents come to us more naturally than others.


You gave a lot of interesting examples in your writing. I liked the one about Captain Sully. You got to talk to him about that. What did you learn from talking to him about curiosity?

I first met him as I was reading the accident report on this famous flight on the cold evening of 2009. What was fascinating is that here you had a person who had 208 seconds to make a decision. That’s a little time. In situations where you have no trust in the engines and you’re flying, you’re also under a lot of stress. As I was reading the accident report, I got to see the communications between him and his first officer and also between him and the air traffic controller. He was considering all options. That’s striking because for anybody who knows anything about psychology, what we know is that under that time pressure and that level of anxiety or stress, we tend to narrow our options. We go to the most obvious answer, which in this case would have been landing to the closest airport. He instead kept considering alternatives.

When I reached out to him, I discovered that by the time he had the accident, he had tons of experience under his belt. He had over 30,000 hours of flying experience and he had served in the military. He had experience flying all sorts of planes. He also served as a volunteer in teams analyzing previous accidents. He had lots of knowledge about what it is that can go wrong on a plane. Despite all of that, every time he walked into the cockpit, he would ask himself what it is that could be different here and what’s left to learn. It’s a beautiful example of a person who made learning goals an important aspect of his career and his job. Rather than thinking of experience as a sign or as a signal that he has all the answer, he always looked at it by saying, “There is more for me to learn.”

That’s an amazing outcome and it shows exactly why it’s important to open up our minds to different things. You had other examples. You had MIT’s Bob Langer and how he raises curiosity with his students and different ones. Was there any other one that stood out in your mind that was somebody that’s doing something amazing with opening up people’s minds to curiosity?

It’s interesting that you mentioned Bob Langer. We are quite quick in judging other’s ideas or judging other’s perspective. We fundamentally come to interaction to keep that our perspective is the best one or our ideas are the best one. What he does to avoid this challenge is raising questions about the ideas that are being discussed. He’s asking people to consider more deeply every one of the ideas that are part of the discussion. It’s remodeling a behavior that you expect others in the lab. He goes back to this idea of making sure that we take on every single opportunity that we have to model behavior that we want to see in others.

I am curious about one more thing with curiosity and it wasn’t anything in your article because I’ve been doing some work with perception. What do you see is the relationship between curiosity and perception? What factors do you think impact perception, if not curiosity and some other things?

If you’re thinking the perception of what more specifically, is it perception in general or do you have a concrete example?

[bctt tweet=”Thanks to all the technology available to us, it’s easier to find or be aware of jobs where we could feel better about the work that we do.” via=”no”]

In the working world, it’s how you’re looking at becoming aware of things of opportunities and how you get along with others. Let’s say you wanted to run a business and you start up a branch in another country, your perception of how things are in general versus how it is to do business with another culture. I don’t look at it as a cultural quotient because there’s more to it. We have senses and everything else. Have you done any research with perception?

I would expect the relationship to be positive. One of the good things that curiosity does for us that are quite beneficial is allowing us to keep asking ourselves, “I wonder if?” It’s that type of thinking that leads you to consider multiple alternatives. I would imagine that in the face of a challenge or a new job, you’re much more likely to have multiple perspectives in looking at the same problem or the same situation if you were a curious person or if your curiosity was triggered.

That brings up critical thinking skills and perception is influenced by that ability. That’s something I’m interested in working on. All of this that you’ve brought up has been fascinating to me. I’m appreciative that you were able to share all this on this show. A lot of people want to read your book. Your work has been inspiring to me. I couldn’t believe it when I saw your article after I wrote all this. I’m like, “I wish I could have read that before I wrote it all.” It would have helped me and I’m like, “This was verifying that I found this was right.” It was good for me. I appreciate you being on the show. I know a lot of people are going to want to know how to get your book and find out more. Is there a link you’d like to share?

There is a link to the book website. It’s On the book website, they can find links to how to buy the book and they can also find the link to a task. I call it the rebel task. Over 65,000 people have taken the test so far. It’s free and takes a few minutes. For people who are interested to get started on this rebel journey, it’s important for all of us to understand which talents come to us more naturally than others. The task was created with the intention of helping all of us get started by understanding our tendencies a little bit better.

Thank you so much for being on this show. This has been fascinating.

Thank you so much for having me. I had fun talking to you.

You’re welcome.

The Perception of Happiness with Silvia Garcia

I am here with Silvia Garcia who is the CEO of the She writes and she does consulting. She is a happiness expert. She is one of the top worldwide leaders in happiness. She’s annually invited by the United Nations to discuss the state of happiness in the world. She’s a humorous storyteller. I’m excited to have her. Welcome, Silvia.

Thank you, Diane.

It’s nice to have you here and you’re welcome. I’m interested in discussing happiness. I had Michelle Gielan on the show and I’ve seen her and her husband, Shawn Achor and a lot of happiness experts. I had Mo Gawdat who wrote about happiness as well. It’s a very hot topic because we’re all dealing with trying to have positive leadership and positive culture and happiness ties into that. I want to have a little background. You have a beautiful accent. I’m trying to figure out where you’re from and I want to know a little bit about you before we launch into some questions about happiness. Can you give me a little backstory?

[bctt tweet=”There are simple moments in the life of every leader that can make a difference because they’re modeling behavior for others.” via=”no”]

My little accent came from two crises. I was born in Spain in Europe and then I worked and traveled to different places and lived in France where I met my husband. I have a mixed accent that comes from Spain and France. It’s my parents who invested a lot of money sending me to study English in the UK. Sometimes you can listen to a little bit of the UK accent thanks to their investment, but they didn’t get enough of the money.

That’s an interesting background. How did you get involved in happiness?

I didn’t think that was a job. When I was studying and when I was working at the beginning, I chose economics and marketing communication. I was not expecting to get interested in happiness as a job. I was always interested in how people were, what they do, why do people do what they do, how our emotions work and why we take the decisions that we take sometimes rationally. I was working in marketing in the Coca-Cola Company and one day I got a phone call from the assistant of the president of the Coca-Cola Company, which is not usual. The assistant told me, “The president wants to talk to you.” I went to the president’s desk. He told me, “I think human things about how you work, what you do and that you should work on happiness.” At that moment, I thought maybe he’s invited me to lead the company. This is a nice way to tell me you’re off sometime tomorrow. He was serious. He wanted to create a department that was in charge of gathering all the information from the great experts on researchers.

Shawn Achor, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Martin Seligman gather all of that knowledge many years ago that was coming up here and there. They tried to make something that was useful for people that was useful for society and for employees. That’s how it started. The minute I put a foot into the arena of happiness and I started to see, “There’s so much there. It’s interesting.” I never left that area. I became really passionate about it. I got a chance to work with many of the great leaders and researchers in the field and did a lot of work in different countries with employees. I never left that space anymore. There was a lot of interest from companies around the world with all sizes small, medium, big, startups, consolidated because there is a real need to be happier everywhere aside from your life, but also at work. I eventually decided to spin out from the Coca-Cola Company and be able to offer and share all experiences, the workshops and the talk that I had accumulated to offer them for anybody who was interested in that.

TTL 321 | Happiness
Happiness: We have the reward system in our brain that is in charge of making us desire things.


Some of the companies you are mentioning are hard to beat having that experience. I wanted to delve into what you’ve researched. I’m looking at a lot of different aspects of curiosity and perception and some of the things that tie into whether people are happy or not. I’m curious about what you think about the perception of happiness. How much is perception involved in how we see things? If you think about perception as the ability to use our senses to become aware of things and what we come out with and what our mental picture is of the world based on that. How does that impact happiness?

I used to work for marketing and communication and we used to say perception is reality and that worked. What you perceive is a reality. You tend to make decisions based on your perceptions. Now, perceptions are not reality. What you perceive to be reality depends on your social surroundings, what other people think is good about your own physical perception, how you see those pictures where you think you are seeing something that is not real. Even your senses can be deceiving reality and giving you a perception that is not reality.

Although we react in our perceptions, perceptions are not reality but for us it is. They shape our decisions. I help people realize to be more aware of what their perceptions are and the distance and the difference between perception and reality so they can make better decisions. We think our intuitions and our perceptions are good enough, so we make decisions based on that. In terms of happiness, most people take the wrong decisions. We mistake happiness and pleasure. Sometimes we think, “If I had that new job, if I bought that house or if I had a better marriage, I would be happy.” There were perception or intuition tells us that but that’s not true. It’s not bad. It’s something that you work. It’s something different. It’s not having things or having a relationship. It’s different. I worked perceptions and our intonations tell us or give us information that’s mistaken that.

How do we work on that? How do we fix the way we perceive things to be happier? Do you have any research you’ve done on that?

It helps us a lot to know how much is that perception and how much is something that is going to help us become happier is knowing a little bit about our brain. In the end, everything we think or feel is coming from our brain. It’s going to the moon, we go to space and we know more about the stars in the universe than we know about our brain. It’s worth it to know how we work and how our brain works so we can know what our brain is doing to us and then manage it. We can always manage if we are aware. The best thing is being aware of. In our brain, happiness has two different pathways and enemy. The enemy is useful. There’s an enemy for happiness that is key to survival. Our brain has not evolved in the last many years on Earth. It’s the same brain that saved us when we were alone and we go tracked by the animal and we were in danger constantly. It is tuned to be aware of the danger. We have a center called the amygdala that is detecting any danger and it’s sending signals to the rest of the brain and the body to act quickly.

The body is important for our survival because it’s going to tell us if there’s a danger, if there’s a lion behind you or if there’s a train coming towards you. Without thinking much, you need either to fly or fight. In this case, fly. You don’t need to think a lot. It’s going to set all the signals of high stress to your body that is going to be useful at that moment to run fast. It’s going to make your heart pump quickly and send a lot of blood to the extremities, to your arms and legs so you can run quickly. You don’t feel pain because your immune system is lowered down because there’s no time when you’re running for your life to feel any pain or to cough if you get something on your throat. You won’t feel anything during a period of time while you’re suffering that high stress to get your life safe again. That is the amygdala and the mechanism of survival. That is an enemy if necessary but it’s an enemy of happiness because while you’re feeling all of that, it’s demanding a lot of energy to your body.

The animals, for example, when they are hunted and they escape, they have had a surge of cortisol and adrenaline and all things that go with high stress. If they are safe, they rest and they become normal again and the immune system goes up again. The heart stops pumping back quickly and they recover. We humans, because we have the capacity of perception very high, we are able to see danger in many places or even to emerging danger. Imagine that that boy I don’t like comes to my office and closes the door. You can’t manage situations that have not happened but for your body, for your brain, there is perception when you imagine them as if they were happening at that moment. It’s going to set off your defense system, your amygdala with your stress to be high. It’s because we have that imagination or imagine things that have not happened all to remember things that have happened in the past.

[bctt tweet=”In terms of happiness, most people take the wrong decisions because they mistake happiness and pleasure.” via=”no”]

When I was discussing with this brother-in-law that I don’t like and he was telling me this or that. You remember what happened in the past. For your body, the perception that triggers the amygdala and stress is as if it’s happening again. It’s an enemy for happiness because of continuous high stress without time for recovery is an enemy of happiness and also an enemy of taking good decisions at work. Happiness is related to taking better decisions and more informed because with more time also. When you are unhappy or super stressed or you have fear or a fight situation, your amygdala is going to make your brain stop thinking and react quickly and aggressively.

For happiness, there are two kinds. There’s one type of happiness that most people will get and most people get confused about that happiness and it’s joy and pressure. We have the reward system in our brain that is in charge of making us desire things. Once we get the same feeling pressure, it’s called the dopamine system. If we use this hormone called dopamine, that is going to make you want things set off to try to pursue those things. It gives you energy, it gives you hope, it gives you this choice to pursue these difficulties to pursue things and then pleasure when you get them. It is good happiness and it cannot be the only one. When we get something we wanted madly, a week after we want something else. It happens with the car, the house, the job and the promotion all of the time. The more you desire, the more you use that part, the higher the reward you need to feel pleasure. The more you’re in search for that, the less satisfaction that you get. You need some of that but it cannot be the only thing. When you use it too much and when you use it in the company. For example, helping companies to get the right mechanisms of reward for happiness.

By using this reward system, people get excited about the reward. If over excited, our capacity to make good decisions and ethical decisions get low and then you get this happening. People were so tuned to the reward to what worked, they were able to do things they wouldn’t have done if a different system of happiness and reward was in place. To balance this immediate short-term reward system that makes us want things over and more and quicker, we need to balance it with a different system that is in our brain and it’s called the serotonin system. It is the hormone that makes us bond with people. It makes us bond with people. It makes us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. It gives us a sense of why we’re working here? Why we’re living? Our life has a sense. It’s more long-term. It’s more of those questions that you don’t ask yourself every morning but are important. That’s the other one that you need also to pay attention to your life and at work.

You need to make people feel that they are valued and they are working for something bigger than themselves. The life counts somehow and they belong to something, a community, a place where they’re not alone. The other happiness brain path it’s more selfish, it’s for your own pressure. This second one we are talking now is more about us. It’s about more than yourself. It’s sharing, a community, a family and more about you and the others. Both are very important. Your perceptions are usually sent to you by that short-term quick and immediate reward system because it has a priority when we were evolving and as we’re trying to survive. The body and the brain were well designed to make us be alive.

The most important is the fear center because if there’s a danger, you need to pay all that attention to danger. That’s the quickest and the strongest. It goes for the immediate short-term reward because it makes you hunt the elephant or whatever at that time we were hunting. It makes you want a better life to go for a better place and a bigger job. It’s important in terms of evolution. It’s going to have more importance for your brain than the other ones. It comes to the bonding and that feeling of completion and feeling that in contentment. It’s less important in priority and in your brain but it deals with your happiness. You need to be aware that your perceptions are going to come more from the fear center or the immediate quick joy and reward center than from the long-term bonding, etc. That is important too. You need to be aware of design strategies in your life and work to have all those balance taken care of.

I know you’ve done research and I know there’s information that shows that we can influence happiness. As we’re talking about the perception of happiness, you can overdo it if you do it the first way and then it’s better to have the group mentality. How does our global perception of happiness differ based on anything? You talk at the United Nations or wherever places that you’ve spoken. When you’re trying to do business with other organizations or you’re trying to run a company out of a different country, or you want to open a branch in another area when you’re American and you want to go somewhere else. How does the perception of happiness vary in what you’ve seen based on different areas of the world?

You can learn so much from different cultures. Living in Europe and living here is interesting for me to be in a country where everybody is looking for happiness. All companies want to implement things about happiness because they know that employees are looking for companies where they are happy. They don’t even want big salaries only anymore. It’s not that they’re not looking for that but it’s not the key for them to choose. In general, lower happiness that it should have regarding the richness and resources that American has. America has a lot of things in the sense of the quality of life and resources and richness. You would think they could be happier than they are but they’re not. It’s a good country to be because people are interested in being happier. They know they are not first prescribed to have antidepressants. It’s a society that wants happiness, wants to be happier because they are not. Companies know that it’s important because people in general, especially Millennials and younger generations, want to work for companies where they’re going to be happy. There are a huge interest and a huge work to do because Americans are less happy than other countries that have fewer resources and less reason or rational reasons to be.

TTL 321 | Happiness
Happiness: We can widely change our level of happiness up or down depending on what we do with our lives.


When I go and work with other countries, there’s a huge difference. Countries in Latin America have more challenges but they have more social connections and more bonding. It’s important and we don’t pay enough attention. They are able to bounce back from all the challenges they have and still find a sense of, “My life is valuable. I’m hopeful. I’m going to continue working despite challenges to be happier and to be better off in the future.” They invest a lot of time on those communities and social bonding. That’s one of the things that developed countries like. There’s a wonderful book written by a nurse Bronnie Ware in Australia. She wrote a book about the top regrets of the people that were going to die. She worked with people who had an average of twelve weeks of life left. She talked to them about which were the regrets of those people that see their life with a huge clarity and a moment of regret was, “I wish I had been happier and had done things to be happier.” You’ll see at the end of your life that it depends much more in you that you fix it.

They said, “I wish I had invested much more time on my friends, family and relationships because they were important.” You don’t want to only have your boss at your funeral. You want to see a lot of people that care about you and you made an input in their life. You expect to be surrounded by people. They also said, “I wish I had the courage to live a life true to myself and not the life others expected of me.” A lot of that also in well-developed countries where the social pressure of having a big salary and a big name or your car or you’ll be a director soon and all that pressure. Ivy League University also has pressure to make some people live a life that is not true to their true self. That’s also taking away happiness in developed countries where we could be doing better in terms of happiness.

You say that we can influence around 60% of happiness based on this twin study. Do you have any data of which countries are the happiest if America is not as happy as other countries? I’m curious about what research you have.

The United Nations releases the list of all the countries in terms of happiness. Usually, the top two or three countries are from Northern Europe. Many people say, “They are rich and they’re small so it’s easy to govern.” We see that there’s a lot of uneasiness in the United States about politics. They’re smaller but that’s not the only reason. They have done a lot of things about happiness consciously and they designed happiness in many aspects. Those countries tend to be in the top three with Finland one year, Denmark another. They tend to come between one, two, three all the time. You have one of the top ten countries that you don’t expect like Costa Rica or Mexico where there are a lot of challenges and economic change. You wouldn’t say they should be there because we tend to make a parallel between being rich and being happy. When you measure happiness, taking into account everything that counts for happiness is not only the material or what money brings.

There are a lot of other things. In the northern countries, there’s a big security net when things go wrong. They have systems where health is free for everybody. The things that you can do when you’re unemployed and the associations that are going to help you support you financially and train you to get different skills and get back into the market. There are a lot of things done so people feel that they are taken care if things go wrong. That’s also part of that and they also have a lot of trust, which is one of the things that count for happiness too. They trust in the government and trust in each other. It’s something that accounts a lot with transparency and there’s no corruption. Many countries, Spain is one of them, tend to go down in the list of countries. We see cases of corruption coming up, unfortunately.

If you’re in a country like the United States and you don’t trust the government, how do you become happy if you’re in a culture that is problematic?

When I work with companies, they deal to work top down and down to top. It’s both ways but it’s simple to work top-down first. We see all of those that we look up to doing. If it is not bought by the CEO and the leadership committee, it’s not going to work. It’s only starting from the grassroots. How do you do that when you cannot control what the government is going to do? It’s not up to you completely. There’s a strategy to work one by one. What can you do for your happiness? One of the things is knowing the ingredients of a happy life. There are things that are out of your control but in the end, they account only for 10% of your happiness.

[bctt tweet=”In the end, everything we think or feel is coming from our brain.” via=”no”]

Let’s say that 10% is the decisions that the government take in the news that you’d read and that affect you but that had below 10% so it can be distressful now when you hear that or when you learn about that decision that it’s not yours or align with your values. It affects you very much. In the long-term, that is only 10%. 60%, more or less, is up to your decisions, what you do with your time, the people you can reach out to, the people that affect you and that you can affect. It’s how you’re choosing to spend your time and to cultivate curiosity and learn new things all the time. That’s one of the things that count where happiness is. Keep learning, trying, failing and feeling that self-value because you try and learn. You feel that you can achieve things. All of those are the things that you can do despite whoever the government is doing whatever that you don’t like.

Did you say 60%, is that the number you’re getting from that twin study? Can you tell me a little background on the twin study?

It was done in 1979 when people didn’t know how much happiness was coming from your teams or coming from the circumstances. We were talking about the government. The researchers were called Blanchard, Lykken and Tellegen at the University of Minnesota. They said, “We’ll take identical twins that have had a different life that doesn’t know each other. We could maybe find something.” They found 60 pairs of identical twins. Identical twins have the same genetic makeup. They are identical in terms of genes. Those 60 pairs of twins had been given in adoption when they were a few weeks old to different families. They didn’t know the existence of each other. They had lived in different countries sometimes with families with different religions and political beliefs and anything you can imagine.

They didn’t know of each other until the researchers called them and put them back together when they were more or less on their 40s. They gathered them all to see creepy things happening. There are two Jim that was identical twins that had been given away to different families came Jim Lewis and Jim Springer. They were called Jim by their family’s coincidence and they have both married to a Linda. They both had divorced and remarried to a Betty and they both had a dog and both called the dog Toy. Things like that started to happen and they kept collecting things. Two identical twins had never talked to or met each other before coming dressed exactly identical. They wear the same clothes despite living in different places.

Was it part of epigenetics? Do they think it has any impact from that?

They did the research and they complete it at the beginning. It was taken by Time Magazine and other media. They had the same happiness and they were trying to change happiness, was trying to change your hair or the color of your eyes. There was no point. At that time, people let that and some people say, “It’s impossible to change. I’m deceived because I felt I was going to be able to do something with my life and now they tell me, ‘No, it’s all on your genes.’” Other people said, “I feel relieved because many health books and gurus have told me, ‘You have to work and you can do it.’ I’m still feeling unhappy but I’m relieved that they told me it’s not your fault. Don’t do anything. You cannot change it.” They continued researching and they realized they had made a mistake. They released the numbers based on the average. The average twin had similar happiness, but they found a lot of twins that despite having the same genetic makeup and not knowing the children and having seen their lives, they had different happiness levels. They went back to the media and they published on the Time Magazine a correction saying, “We’ve made a dumb mistake in the original article. We can tell that we can widely change our level of happiness up or down depending on what we do with our lives.” The epigenetics and more studies have concluded that the amount of happiness that we can affect is around 60%.

There are many things that we need to work on to help engagement and to help cultural issues in the workplace. I’ve studied curiosity, perception, emotional intelligence and all of these factors and all can be improved. Everything that you’re studying ties into everything I’ve been studying so this is fascinating to me. This has been useful for everybody and I enjoyed having you on the show. I would love for people to be able to reach you. I want to make sure that they know that your company is If they want to find you, is it the best place to reach you?

They can find me there and they will find on the website business cases to see how happiness is at the beginning of great results with a company and not a consequence. They will find a cultural assessment to see if the company is happy or not. They can also reach me there or they can phone me on my phone number or email me at

That’s nice of you to reach out to everybody like that. It’s been so much fun having you on the show, Silvia. Thank you for being such a great guest.

It was fun. It was such a pleasure, Diane. I enjoyed talking to you.

I want to thank Francesca and Silvia. Every time I get to talk to people like Silvia and Francesca, they have such great information. I hope you checked out some of the past episodes if you’ve missed any. There are many guests who are amazing in the research they do and the success they’ve had. You can find past episodes if you go to I hope you do that and I hope you join us for the next episode of Take The Lead Radio.

Important Links:

About Francesca Gino

TTL 321 | Happiness

I am a professor of business administration in the Negotiation, Organizations & Markets Unit at Harvard Business School. I am also formally affiliated with the Program on Negotiation at Harvard Law School, with the Mind, Brain, Behavior Initiative at Harvard, and with the Behavioral Insight Group at Harvard Kennedy School.

I teach Decision Making and Negotiation in the MBA elective curriculum and in Executive Education programs at the School. I co-chair an HBS Executive Education program on applying behavioral economics to organizational problems. I also teach a PhD course on Behavioral Approaches to Decision Making and a PhD course on Experimental Methods.

My research focuses on judgment and decision-making, negotiation, ethics, motivation, productivity, and creativity. My work has been published in top academic journals in both psychology and management, as well as in numerous book chapters and practitioner outlets.

My studies have been featured in The Economist, The New York Times, Newsweek, Scientific American, Psychology Today, and The Wall Street Journal, and my work has been discussed on National Public Radio and CBS Radio.

I have won numerous awards for my teaching, including the HBS Faculty Award by Harvard Business School’s MBA Class of 2015, and for my research, including the 2013 Cummings Scholarly Achievement Award, from the Academy of Management Organizational Behavior Division. In 2015, I was chosen by Poets & Quants to be among their “40 under 40“, a listing of the world’s best business school professors under the age of 40.

In addition to teaching and doing research, I advise firms and not-for-profit organizations in the areas of negotiation, decision-making, leadership and organizational behavior.

About Silvia Garcia

TTL 321 | HappinessFormer Global Director of the Happiness Institute of The Coca-Cola Company. Silvia has been at the forefront of the discoveries and science of happiness during the last 10 years. From the Prime Minister of Buthan, the country that measures Gross Domestic Happiness, to the Happiest Man on Earth, Neuroscientists, Economists, and Psychologists of Happiness, Silvia has learned and worked with them all.


Love the show? Subscribe, rate, review, and share!
Join the Take The Lead community today:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *