Last week Cait Flanders wrote about how some people treated happiness as a general vibe that they exude and others pursued happiness as a destination. Thinking about this idea started me on a path that had me digging back through my notes on happiness research.
Our culture tends to treat happiness as a destination. Happiness is a goal for which you strive. And of course, the most surefire way to reach happiness is to be successful.
If we stop and think about this premise though, it falls apart. If success causes happiness, then we should be able to see the results.
We should achieve happiness when we get our promotion or when we hit our quarterly projections. We should hit that happiness destination when we reach our outside goals.
But we don’t. We are, of course, happy when we succeed. For a time. And then we settle in and aim for new goals, convinced that the new goals will make us happy.
It isn’t a system to be sustainably happy. It doesn’t make sense to believe that success causes any sort of long-term happiness.
And the research bears this out.
Happiness Causes Success
Studies have found that we’re looking at this backwards. Success doesn’t cause happiness. Happiness causes success.
A research team (including Sonja Lyubomirsky, whose work we have looked at before) did a meta-analysis of studies on happiness and success. This means that they put together a lot of different studies and analyzed the combined results. In this case, there were over 200 hundred studies included.
The analysis found that happier people are more productive, better performing, better managers, and more positively evaluated by their supervisors. They are less likely to encounter burnout and more likely to be able to move into positions that have more autonomy, meaning, and variety.
This means that happier people will get better jobs, perform better in them, and last longer in the workforce. And, in case that wasn’t enough, they make more money.
If the workplace isn’t your measure of success, then the study has answers for you as well. Happy people had stronger relationships with friends and family, more stable marriages, better mental and physical health.
There is a growing field of research finding that feelings of happiness (and other positive emotions) broaden our thoughts. When we are happy we have thought patterns that are more inclusive, creative, efficient, and open to new information. We also have expanded powers of attention when we are happy.
These all combine to make success much easier. If we are more creative and efficient, while also being able to pay more attention and to include more information in our thought-process, then we are much better at solving problems. If we are better at solving problems we are more likely to be successful.
This is discussed in The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, in which he pulls out a few studies that provide good examples of this in action.
Achor points to a study of four-year-olds. The children were asked to put blocks together as quickly as possible. One group was just given the instructions and another was told to think of something that makes them happy before they started. The happy kids “significantly outperformed” the neutral kids. (In the context of block building, success is building quicker and with fewer errors).
Achor then notes studies that have found the same effect in students taking standardized tests and business people negotiating deals.
Happiness expands your problem solving abilities. With those abilities increased, it is easier to achieve our goals and be successful, whatever field that success falls into.
How We Can Use This
It is time that we flip our thinking. We cannot keep waiting for happiness. We cannot keep treating it as a destination or a prize for being successful.
We need to go out and find happiness ourselves, and then success will come all that much easier.
Need somewhere to start? How about trying some of these: