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  • Writer's pictureDave Caperton

The Happiness/Success Connection

The Happiness/Success Connection

Here’s the happiness and success formula you’ve probably been taught:

  1. Work really hard

  2. Succeed

  3. Be Happy

  4. Raise the bar

  5. Repeat (until you die).

But there are two things wrong with this formula. First, it’s, well, nuts! And second, it’s wrong! No, not just wrong, it’s 180 degrees wrong. It’s the opposite of right. It’s the equivalent of confusing day and night, the sun with the moon, chickens and eggs, Kardashians for talent, cause for effect. Especially that last. You’ve probably been indoctrinated from childhood that hard work would make you successful in ways that would allow you to be happy, right? Your parents, your teachers, your coaches, your bosses, the movies and TV shows you watched all reinforced that formula. If you bought in, you studied to make the grade and the next class got harder. You worked to meet your goals and the goals got bigger. You hit your targets and they pushed them farther away. What you ended up with were celebration moments in which you briefly felt happy before the game reset to the next level and you started over again except with slightly more stress and slightly less chance for success.

I recently was booked to present at an annual meeting of a successful service company and watched the first part of the meeting as the sales team members were presented with awards for driving a year of record growth for the organization. They got recognition and some pretty cool perks and I’ll bet if I had asked them in that moment if they were happy, they would have said, “Are you kidding? Yeah!” But what happens next? The sales quotas will be raised and the chase will begin all over again but with a little more pressure than before and that's the definition of a grind.

The celebration moment is misleading because it suggests that the success is the cause of happiness, but that kind of happiness is really momentary and conditional. In the standard philosophy of work, the cause and effect relationship between happiness and success is completely reversed. It’s a little like looking at a moving car and concluding that the wheels are running the engine. The real relationship between happiness and success is this: happy people create more sustainable success. In organizations that look to the happiness of their people as a primary responsibility, here are some shocking results:

  1. Engagement is higher

  2. Energy increases

  3. There is less burnout

  4. There is lower turnover

  5. Productivity increases up 31%

  6. Sales increase by 37% (Lyubomirsky, 2005)

But if that’s true, how do we change it? Making people happy is a lot tougher than coming up with production-goals and sales-targets and the carrots and sticks to drive people to hit them. Perhaps the most exciting part is that creating happiness isn’t necessarily hard nor expensive. Positive psychology expert, Shawn Achor explains that results with the businesses and schools he works with included these no-cost, research-based steps that resulted in more happiness and success:

  1. Gratitude journaling- Research in 2003 and 2006, revealed that expressing 3 things each day for which you’re grateful and doing that for 21 straight days raised happiness levels by simply rewiring perceptions. By forcing a focus on the positives and consciously acknowledging them, our brains begin to recognize the positives automatically. It takes some time and practice, but once perceptions have been oriented to seeing positives without conscious effort, happiness increases dramatically (Emmons and McCullough, 2003). Later research requiring subjects to journal once each day about a positive experience had a profound impact on happiness not only because it forced a focus on the positive, but amplified the emotional effect by allowing the writer to re-experience it by converting it to written words (Slatcher and Pennebaker, 2006)

  2. Physical activity: I know, I know, exercise is the pomegranate juice of success formulas, it’s now in everything. But the impact of physical exercise on emotional well-being is pretty easy to understand. Exercise not only has an impact on your health, mood, energy and appearance, it works subconsciously as a model of the way behavioral changes yield tangible results. And when it’s shared, it provides a way of connecting with others regardless of other differences.

  3. Daily Acts of Kindness- Research by Sonja Lyubomirsky showed that daily acts of kindness produced emotional benefits for the giver even greater than for the recipient. Each day, subjects were asked to send one positive email or initiate a kind interaction with a member of their social support network and the result was a heightened sense of well-being and self-worth. In his book, Vital Friendships, Gallup researcher, Tom Rath, says strengthening relationships is the most effective way to increase organization engagement and productivity. Sending one kind message or performing one act of kindness is enough to have a significant effect.

These three joy hacks aren’t the whole answer to creating more happiness where you work, but they are simple, no-tech and low or no-cost ways to start reversing the happiness-to-success equation. Even if these steps did nothing to boost your productivity or sales (but they will), they are three steps toward a more positive, kind and healthy place among the people with whom you spend most of your waking hours and who wouldn’t want that?

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