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Success leads to happiness or happiness leads to success?


That question has been the source of debate from the halls of academia to the board rooms of corporations to parenting classes and beyond. Do happy people accomplish more or does accomplishing more make them happy? Since we were children, you and I have been taught both subtly and directly that if we work hard and accomplish much (as we define much) we will be happier.

Leaders have long believed that if we can create high performance work environments and incentivize people correctly they will be happy as they accomplish more and are more successful. Finally the debate has been solved. There is now overwhelming research that says….we accomplish more when we are happy. In fact, the happier a person is the more they are likely to accomplish.

Does this mean that everyone that is successful is happy? Clearly no. BUT it does mean that the focus on happiness and contentment is critical to success. Shawn Achor wrote a book titled, “The Happiness Advantage” and in that book he spells out how research has led to exceptionally compelling evidence about what leads to happiness. I heartily recommend the book to everyone. Shawn is a brilliant thinker and researcher around the concept of positive psychology and its impact on every area of our life.

For purposes of this piece I want to encourage you to cease the messaging that the key to long term happiness is how successful you are. The world is full of people who believe the “if/then” mythology. If I can get that job, have that relationship, buy that car, accomplish that goal etc etc I will be happy. That is not the case. Happiness is an inside out job and with the exception of some bio chemical trauma (which few have) it is not far from your reach. One final point before I give you a couple of ways to get to happiness: Happiness is NOT the absence of misery, sadness or malaise. It’s far beyond that.

Here are a few things you can do today that will increase your level of happiness.

Gratitude – List three things you are profoundly grateful for every day. Here is the key: not just what you are grateful for but WHY you are grateful for those things.
Intentionally limit or eliminate people from your life that are negative and critical. I am not talking about people that give you hard to hear feedback or who you look to for clarity. I am talking about those people that always find fault, or create spaces where you are never good enough.
Do something meaningful every day for someone else. Doesn’t have to be complex. It could be a call, a note, a text.
Do something physically active.

I know what you may be thinking! ‘Mike, that stuff is easy, can it really have an impact?’

I assure you, you will be shocked at how quickly you feel the resurgent energy.