Happiness or Success: Which Comes First?
Think about this: does happiness create success or does success lead to happiness? Most of us are brought up to believe that if we do certain things like study hard, get good grades, gain admission into a reputable university, graduate, and get a good job, we will be happy. But is that really the case?
There is a plethora of of neuroscience and psychology studies that show that happiness leads to higher productivity, higher profits, and higher success rates. In other words, rather than becoming happy after a certain milestone is reached, happiness contributes more to success than the other way around. Being ‘successful’ does not necessarily make you happy. After all, most of us know someone who is successful in his or her job and has a sizable bank account but is not happy.
The ironic thing is that so many of us work hard and strive to achieve because we believe it will make us happy. We want to earn more money, buy a bigger house, drive a nicer car, all because we want happiness. Too often, once we successfully achieve our goals, we find that it only brings us temporary happiness and leaves us feeling empty again.
Think about a new car you once bought. It more than likely brought you momentary happiness as you drove it. After a while, however, your level of happiness derived from owning and driving that car diminished quickly and you no longer felt the excitement and satisfaction you experienced when you first drove it. The same principle applies to a new job, a promotion at work, a new home, new clothes, an expensive watch, etc.
Material wealth is often used as the measure of success. Yet, many people who possess material wealth are not happy. Most of these people followed the tradition of studying diligently, getting into a good college, securing a good job, working hard, buying nice things, all in the hope of being happy, only to find out that the happiness they derive from their ‘success’ is fleeting and temporary.
You see, the problem with trying to obtain happiness by being successful is that the goal posts are always moving. Once a person obtains a good job, they then start eyeing a promotion to an even better job. Once they purchase the fancy car, they want one that is even better than the last. The large house they bought suddenly seems less luxurious than another one they saw in a high-end real estate brochure. It is never ending. The goals keep shifting and are always one step ahead. In other words, it is a perpetual game of playing ‘catch up’. It is never enough.
Shawn Achor, Harvard grad, author of the Happiness Advantage and Ted Talk star, talks about the lens through which we see the world. His research shows that how we view the world ultimately creates our reality. If we focus on changing the lens, we can increase our happiness significantly and also change educational and business results.
Shawn advocates that if you focus on being happy first, you will be more successful, and that makes a lot of sense. Every aspect of your life, from business, to education and relationships improves when you are happy and in a positive state of mind. That does not mean that you do not set goals, face challenges, and work hard. It simply means that you cultivate a state of happiness and positivity while doing it.
We need to stop equating future success with happiness. That new job, new house, new car, new slim body that is 20 pounds lighter than before, etc, will not bring us happiness. Instead, happiness is a positive state of mind that we can cultivate with daily practice. Just like working out our muscles in the gym each day, we can train our brains to become more positive and, well, happy!
Every aspect of our lives improves when we are happy, and that includes our work ethic and productivity. Happy people even earn more money and are more influential. In a sense, happiness is really a type of work mindset or ethic. We are much more likely to exploit our full potential when we are calm, positive, optimistic, and content than if we are stressed and unhappy while trying constantly trying to chase down our next goal. We make better decisions when we are happy and we also are more creative. Simply think back of a stressful or unhappy time you experienced in your life and think about how creative, rational and productive you were at that time. The answer is obvious.
So how does one become more happy? There are five main and effective ways to train ourselves to become more happy:
1. Practice Daily Gratitude
Taking time each day to focus on positive aspects of our lives is one powerful way to practice gratitude and become happier. It involves choosing the lens through which we view the world, as we discussed earlier. It makes us realize that there are a lot of positive things we can choose to be grateful for.
Choose a specific time each day, preferably twice a day, to list three things that you are grateful for. I like to do it before I go to bed at night and in the morning when I begin my day. It could the wonderful dinner you had, the productive meeting you had at work, time spent with family and friends, etc. Spend a few minutes reliving each incident and soaking in the positive feelings you felt. Writing your list down in a gratitude journal is even more effective. For more detailed information, you can read more about practicing gratitude.
2. What I Love About Myself
Another effective way to increase your level of happiness is to list three things that you love about yourself each day. All too often we are are own worst critics and we are hard on ourselves. I like to practice this daily ritual twice a day at the same time I practice gratitude as described above.
There are numerous things about you that you can love. They can be either big or small. Your kindness, your sense of humor, the skill you bring to cooking a meal in the kitchen, the fact that you are an avid reader, the love you shower upon your kids, etc.
3. Practicing Kindness
There is a lot of research showing that when we are kind to others, we experience a dopamine spike and become happier. In a sense, giving really is better than receiving. If you take the time to practice three acts of kindness each day, you will boost your level of happiness, especially if you practice it consistently.
It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, buying a colleague a favorite cup of coffee in the morning, giving money to charity, calling someone in need and offering a sympathetic ear, or cooking a delicious meal for the family despite being tired. For some new ideas, you can read more about practicing acts of kindness.
Meditation is a great way to center your mind and to become happier, especially if practiced consistently. Simply pick a specific time each day to sit with no distractions for a few minutes and focus on your breath. That’s it. If your mind wanders (and it will, trust me), simply return your attention back to your breath. Ideally, do it for fifteen minutes each day. You can even meditate throughout the day which will bolster the effect.
The last way I recommend to increasing your happiness is to exercise daily. Exercise, as most of us know, has a powerful effect on our overall health and mood. Too many of us sit at our desk for hours at a time and then return home to sink into our favorite couch to watch TV. Movement encourages us to produce more dopamine and serotonin, which, in turn, boost our positivity and happiness. Choose a form of exercise that you enjoy and do it regularly. The mind to body connection that you have heard about is real.
Too many of us are placing the cart before the horse and hoping that success will lead to happiness, only to find out later that we were mistaken. Sadly, assuming that the average person works eight hours each day, that means that there a lot of people who spend half their awake hours each day being unhappy while pursuing success, all in the hope of becoming happy one day.
Of course, we will always experience challenges and obstacles while pursuing our dreams and goals, but we are much better equipped to handle them if we are positive, optimistic, calm, content, and happy. Our mindset better prepares us to be more creative and productive. That is why so many top companies today are spending money on keeping their employees happy by offering ‘happiness’ training.
To be the most productive and to be the best we can be, we need to focus on our happiness while we pursue our goals. Happiness is a precursor and part of success and it has a profound effect. Happiness comes first.