The belief that success is the predecessor of happiness is the carrot-on-a-stick which dangles at the forefronts of many of our lives. The old thought reverberating in our minds, “If I could only achieve ______, I would be happy.” Yet taking a moment of consideration, we’re able to recognize the inherent flaw in this concept.
After we achieve our goals, our standards of success almost immediately shift. As a result, our happiness is as transient as the success we achieve. So how do we solve this problem? According to psychologist and Harvard professor Shawn Achor, the answer is simple: flip the happiness/success relationship on its head.
Rather than happiness being the result of success, Achor proves that success is instead the result of happiness.
According to Achor, when you’re happy your productivity improves by 31%, sales by 37%, you’re 40% more likely to get promoted, 10 times more engaged at work, have a longer life, better grades, suffer less illnesses—and all of this still merely scratching the surface.
This proven increase of productivity and success as a result of happiness is the precise reason why Google, for example, designs their office spaces the way that they do—complete with pool tables, rope swings and slides. Not to talk shit about a grey cubicle’s three walls of motivational glory.
The trick to achieving what Achor refers to as “The Happiness Advantage”, is that you have to train your brain to be happy, the same as you would do sit ups to achieve a set of washboard abs. You cannot just decide, “I’m going to be happy,” and expect the floodgates of success to open up.
To significantly increase your happiness, Achor suggests choosing at least one of the following exercises to completion for the next 21 days:
1. In a journal, write down three new things you are grateful for each day.
2. In a journal, spend two minutes a day describing a positive experience you’ve had in the last 24 hours.
3. Exercise for 10 minutes a day.
4. Meditate for 2 minutes a day. This means hold the silence in your mind. Breathe in love, breathe out love.
5. Do one act of random kindness or show somebody your appreciation.
These exercises train your brain to automatically search for positivity and express gratitude. Increasing your optimism is one of the quickest routes to boosting productivity and success. The reasoning is simple: that which we put out into the universe—as far as energy, intention, and expectation—we will in turn receive. This is known as The Expectancy Theory or The Law of Attraction.
An example of this theory in practice was the experiment carried out in Japan using 13 people who all had an extreme allergy to poison ivy. The 13 subjects were first rubbed with a normal, non-allergenic leaf and told that it was poison ivy. All 13 subjects broke out in a rash. Then, the subjects were rubbed on the other arm with poison ivy, and told that it was a harmless leaf. This time, only 2 broke out in a rash. It’s astounding how much of an impact expectation makes on our outcome.
The point here is learning to habitually turn the poison ivy in our lives into mere harmless ferns. It’s a game of positive expectation—positive outcome. Rather than seeing stress as a set-back, we can choose to see it as a challenge.
There’s an old anecdote that illustrates this practice: two shoe salesmen get sent to old Africa to sell sneakers. Upon getting there, the first man immediately messages his boss, “Bad news. No one wears shoes here.” The second man, also realizing this messages his boss, “Great news! No one wears shoes here yet!” What the first man sees as a lost cause, the second man sees as an opportunity.
Our emotional perspective trickles directly into the reality we craft for ourselves. If we prioritize success over happiness—especially for the purpose of achieving happiness—we enter a continuum of dissatisfaction and counter-productivity. Happiness is not only critical to ourselves, but to our success, and the satisfaction we pull from it. In short, if you want to be happy with your work, you first have to work at being happy.