Happiness: The Key to Success? [Part 1]

by | Apr 22, 2018 | 2 comments


In March, I traveled to Flint, Michigan for a workshop based on Shawn Achor’s book, The Happiness Advantage. You might have seen his hilarious TED talk titled The Happy Secret to Better Work. If you haven’t, you’re probably wondering what happiness has to do with work, and on a related note, success. Well, it’s probably more than you’d expect!

But first, how should we define happiness? To keep it simple, happiness = a positive emotional state. This includes feelings like joy and contentment, as well as a sense of purpose and meaning. While we may struggle to find the right words, we know happiness when we experience it.

The biggest “aha!” moment for me was that we may have been conditioned – erroneously – to see happiness as a reward for a job well done.  The good old “carrot and the stick” approach to life tells us that the path to happiness looks something like this:


  1. Work hard.
  2. Become successful.
  3. Be happy.


It makes sense at first – right? Now think back to times when “positive” things happened to you. Did you become happier when you got that raise? That award? That new car? Sure, it probably felt good for a bit…but then your brain starts moving the goalposts for success, and that happy feeling fades away.

Instead, Shawn claims that the formula above is broken – and that it actually looks something like this:


  1. Choose happiness.
  2. Your brain works better.
  3. Become successful.


What’s wild is that science backs up this model! For example, when you choose happiness, your brain works better. You’re more creative, engaged, motivated, resilient, and energetic – and that leads to better outcomes, which increase your success at home and at work.

Not convinced? Check out these statistics from Shawn’s book, The Happiness Advantage. Positive people:


  • Are 31% more productive
  • Are 3 times more creative
  • Have 56% greater sales
  • Report 23% fewer fatigue symptoms
  • Are 40% more likely to receive a promotion


This doesn’t mean you need to turn into a Pollyanna. Instead, practice rational optimism. This means that you assess the situation realistically but believe that you have the power through your actions to eventually achieve a positive outcome.

Stay tuned for more – my next post will feature strategies for boosting your happiness and rational optimism.


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  1. Jon

    I could not agree more! Time again, studies have shown how attitude follows behavior, not the other way around. Recommended reading: Oliver Burkeman’s “the antidote: happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking”

    There’s more than 1 way to happiness – “choosing” to be happy is easier said than done. There’s much wisdom we can take from the lessons of the stoics

  2. Ashley

    I love Shawn’s work and couldn’t agree with this post more! It was such a big ah-hah moment for me as well to realize the traditional: work hard, succeed, be happy workflow was actually backwards. Such a powerful notion for companies to understand and embrace.


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