Happiness Equals Success

Aug 7, 2020

Elizabeth Houghton

Sutton Full Potential Founder

Happiness and how success does not lead to happiness, but happiness leads to success.

Buddha said, “If you love what you are doing, you will be successful”. Bear with me. I know, like me, you have most likely been brought up thinking to be happy you have to be successful so, in turn, this means we have been brought up thinking that success leads to happiness. I am turning that on its head today. I am saying you must first be happy before you are successful.

The World Happiness Report states that at any one time, over 220 million children and 1 billion adults suffer from anxiety, depression and Conduct Disorders. These statistics to do not paint a pretty picture of happy people on a happy planet. These statistics are terrifying! Why do we struggle to feel happy and be happy?

So, when are we happy? If you are like me, you have been brought up thinking if you work hard at school, you get the grades you need to go to the university you want to go to, and you will then be happy. So, you first have to be successful before you can be happy. So, you are at that university you wanted to go to, the one you worked so hard to get into, you said no to going to some parties and hanging out with friends, the one you locked yourself away to focus on your schoolwork. You worked your arse off to be rewarded with grades on a piece of paper that looks something like in the range of A stars to C on results day. Now, you are happy for the first week or so, you are enjoying the experience, you walk onto the university campus, and you cannot quite believe you have made it. You have to pinch yourself to make sure you are not dreaming. You got to where you wanted to be. You are in a place where you would be happy, but no. Your happiness quickly fades away, and you start to focus on the competition, the workload, needing to get above-average grades again to ensure you get accepted into that highly competitive graduate program upon graduation, so you can get another piece of paper that validates your success that says to the external world you are successful.

Now, we are sure if we get into that highly competitive graduate program, we will be happy. We know that the graduate program will bring us happiness. We get accepted into the graduate program, and we are happy for a week or so, we feel privileged to be at the firm, again that feeling of happiness fades and we want that permanent job offer at the end of the graduate program. We work really hard again, and we get that permanent position. So, now we are happy, right? Surely we are happy now? Nope. We are not. If we are, happiness is short-lived now that we want that promotion. We want that next step in our career. Are you exhausted yet?

I know I am just talking about it. You get the promotion, you have worked your arse off, you have achieved all of your targets, and you have smashed it. You have just sat down with your manager to discuss next year’s goals, and you have been informed that your targets are bigger and harder to achieve than last year. Your achievement is rewarded with harder targets. Are you happy? How does that make you feel? Do you have that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach? You have worked so hard in the pursuit of what will bring you happiness, and you have just been told you have to work harder. Every time we get to that mythical thing that we believe will make us happy, we move the goalposts, or sometimes they are moved for us. School, university, graduate job, promotion, every time we get to that one thing that we see as our key to success, we move the goalposts, we want the next something.

You have got that 4-bed house with the direct beach access. Now you want a boat to go with that house! Oh, and let’s not forget the Land Rover, the three-plus international holidays each year ooh, and those business class flights – then I will be successful, then I can be happy, right? Surely then I will be happy.

I am going to share with you some science now. There is a link to happiness. Dopamine is a chemical found naturally in our bodies. It has been fondly nicknamed ‘the feel-good hormone’. When our bodies release Dopamine, we get a feeling of pleasure. When Dopamine is released, our brain function is 30% more effective. Hence, our brain can be more productive when we are happy, which increases our intelligence, our creativity and our energy levels go up. So, why do we stop ourselves from being happy? Why do we keep sabotaging our happiness?

The majority of us seem to measure success on external factors, making us happy. The car, the house, the Jimmy Choo shoes, that Prada handbag. It is not our fault; this is the way we have been taught to see the world, what we have been told success is, and that success leads to happiness. Have you watched Tidying Up with Marie Kondo on Netflix? Marie helps people declutter their homes and in turn their lives. She says, “If it doesn’t spark joy, let it go.” Marie’s methods help families to choose joy over material possessions. Things do not hold the key to our happiness. Now you may get a buzz when you manage to purchase something you have wanted for a long time. This buzz, this feeling of joy, does not last long, ask any shopaholic. Shopping for a shopaholic is fun and exciting and rewarding for the most part, at first. That new purchase is exciting but once that initial buzz fades, what are you left with?

Yesterday’s news is old news. Our external world only influences about 10% of our long-term happiness. 90% of our long-term happiness is predicted not by our outer world, but through the lens in which we see the world. What do I mean by lense? We all see the world differently. We all have our own map of reality, which has been shaped by our experiences. Have you ever met that one person who always seems really happy no matter what? That one person who just sees the world through their own lens, which is different from yours? They see the world from a place of optimism, and seeing stress is a challenge instead of a threat. We need to stop telling ourselves, “If I was more successful, then I will be happy”. We already know we will just move the goalposts every time we get to our successful happiness.

We need to be happy before we can be successful. The science backs this up. We perform much better when we are positive and happy. Say to yourself with me now, “If I elevate my happiness levels, then I will get results”, “If I elevate my happiness levels, then I will get results”. Working long hours does not equal success. Now, you already know what makes you happy. You do not need me to tell you or help you work it out. You know deep down inside you what makes you happy. So, what are you waiting for?

Taking the path of least resistance does not result in happiness. This is easier said than done. We are hard-wired to take the path of least resistance. This is not unique to us humans. Everything takes the path of least resistance -a stream, electricity, google maps even. Wolves evolved into domesticated dogs because it was easier to scavenge on human trash than track down their prey. Low hanging fruit will probably look more appealing, according to Dr Hagouris research. Our brain tricks us into believing that low hanging fruit really is the ripest. When one option is harder to get, we are more likely to think it is the wrong choice. However, the easy option is not usually the option that will bring us true happiness, and we know this deep down inside. When we take the path of least resistance, it is not going to result ultimately in our happiness.

Now, the choice is yours. I have provided you with new information. I have told you that success does not result in happiness, that you need to find your happiness, not from material things. You have the information now; it is yours to choose to act. The information, I have backed it up with science and research, you now have the choice. You have this new information, what are you going to do with it?

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