Our Perception of Happiness and Success is Broken

I recently completed an exciting project featuring more than 75 top performers, including multi-millionaires, CEOs, bestselling authors, Olympians, Super Bowl champions and more.

I contacted each of these individuals and asked them to provide me with their very best piece of advice to their twenty-something self.

One of the best pieces of advice I received was from positive psychology research and bestselling author Shawn Achor. Shawn is revolutionizing the way that individuals and organizations perceive happiness and success.

Here was his incredible advice to his younger self:

I wish I had known that success would not lead to happiness, but happiness would lead to greater success. I often thought if I got the next good grade, or got into the right school, or got the right job, or got the bestselling book, THEN I would be happy. But success is a moving target for the brain, so every time we have a success, our brain changes the goalpost.

Only after working with Harvard students for a decade and becoming a positive psychology researcher did I realize that the greatest competitive advantage in the modern economy is a positive and engaged brain. And fortunately, happiness is a choice, it just requires dedication, practice, and perseverance.

When we are positive, every business and educational success outcome rises. So my advice is seek real happiness (not just pleasure) first, and your chances of success rise dramatically.

A Broken Formula for Success

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Our traditional view of happiness and success is scientifically broken and backward.

We have mistakenly been taught that in order to be happy, we must first be successful. But this is a major problem for two reasons.

First, this approach means that if you achieve success, you must continue to change your definition of success. When this happens, you constantly push happiness and success beyond your reach. Shawn refers to this as pushing happiness beyond your ‘cognitive horizon.’

Secondly, this formula is backward because happiness actually increases your chances of success. When operating from a place of positivity, your performance increases dramatically, and all success outcomes rise.

This means that a happy brain is more productive, intelligent, motivated, resilient, creative and energetic, to name a few of the laundry list of benefits. This is what researchers have referred to as “the happiness advantage”.

The Happiness Advantage

Again, when our brains are positive and we operating from this place of positivity, we are able to tap into optimal levels of performance that are not available when our brains are operating from a stressed or neutral state.

These findings are incredibly important for entrepreneurs and organizations. When you can tap into this happiness advantage, you are able to cultivate an environment that gives you and your organization a competitive edge.

Working alongside major corporations (such as UBS, KPMG) and thousands of Fortune 500 executives from 42 different countries, Achor has been able to fix this broken formula and help these individuals and organizations achieve maximum performance.

If you find that you or your teams are lacking in engagement, creativity, motivation, resiliency or other related success factors, then maybe you have been following a broken formula.

To fix these issues, focus on attaining happiness and satisfaction and use that as a foundation to achieve success.

Train Your Brain to Be Positive

All of the above is great news.

Why? Because happiness is a choice. It just takes time and practice. Researchers have found there are several exercises and methods that can be used to create a positive brain in the present.

Four Proven Exercises to Increase Positivity Levels

There are several methods Achor has used with the companies he’s worked with to improve their employees’ positivity levels. He discusses each of these exercises more in-depth in his bestselling book, The Happiness Advantage. Each of these exercises have yielded terrific results that result in happier, better-performing individuals and organizations.

Exercise 1: Write down three things that you are grateful for each day, for three weeks in a row.

This incredibly simple (yet effective) exercise trains the brain to start scanning the world for the positive first, instead of the negative.

Exercise 2: Write down one positive experience that has occurred in the last 24 hours.

Writing about an experience allows your brain to relive that experience and therefore increases positivity.

Exercise 3: Meditate

Meditation allows the brain to focus on the task at hand and increases overall well-being.

Exercise 4: Send one positive email upon opening your inbox, praising or thanking someone

This prosocial behavior has been shown to dramtically increase happiness levels and overall well-being.

What We’ve Learned

What conventional wisdom has taught us about happiness and success is wrong.

We’ve been taught that if we first achieve success, then we’ll be happy. However, this is a broken formula because when we constantly change our definition of success, we push happiness beyond our reach.

This is a major problem because a positive, happy brain results in optimal performance and increases our chances of success.

To fix this, we need to reverse the formula and focus on being positive in the present.

Focus on happiness first, then success.

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