Happiness precedes Success

Happiness. I want it. You want it. Barack Obama and Nicki Minaj want it. It’s the number one motivator for everyone. We might not be consciously aware of it, but all our goals and dreams of success have one thing in common: We believe that they’ll bring us happiness.

That’s why we take the leap and go out on the adventure to live our dreams. It’s the reason others chase shiny objects and bigger paychecks. We believe that if we could just achieve this one more thing, we will finally be happy.

We believe that happiness follows success.

But we got it all wrong.

Or to be precise; we got it backwards.

Check this: World-class Harvard professor and positive psychologist Shawn Achor says that happiness precedes success. Let me repeat that:

Happiness comes before success. In other words:

Happy people are more likely to be successful (however you define that).

This is quite a big deal. When you consider the fact that most people chase happiness their whole life (whether they know it or not) and do all sorts of funny things to be happy, this literally is a game changer.

Now in case you’ve never heard of positive psychology; it’s a revolutionary new approach to traditional psychology. Positive psychologists don’t focus on curing mental illnesses. Instead they’re trying to help normal people become happy. While a traditional psychologist would focus on getting a person from a negative ten to a zero on the happiness scale, positive psychologists try to get them from a zero to a positive ten. These guys literally study happiness.

If you want to learn more about positive psychology I suggest that you make yourself some tea, sit back and watch this great talk by Tal-Ben Shahar, a former colleague of our Mr. Achor, where he explains the greatest hits of positive psychology.

Back to Mr. Achor and his claim that happiness precedes success. Here’s how he explains it in his book The Happiness Advantage:

“More than a decade of groundbreaking research in the fields of positive psychology and neuroscience has proven in no uncertain terms that the relationship between success and happiness works the other way around.

Thanks to this cutting-edge science, we now know that happiness is the *precursor* to success, not merely the result. And that happiness and optimism actually fuel performance and achievement — giving us the competitive edge that I call the Happiness Advantage.

It turns out that our brains are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive. When we are happy — when our mindset and mood are positive — we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.” 


There you have it: Happiness comes first, success follows.

Now what does this mean for us, the as we’re going after our dreams and goals?Two things:

  1. If we’re serious about our success, we need to make happiness our #1 priority.
  2. We don’t need to chase happiness. We don’t have to achieve that one more thing in order to be happy. Rather we should focus on doing things that make us happy now, instead of postponing it to the future.

Think about it: If we’re serious about creating the life of our dreams we *must* make happiness a priority. Science has proven that it makes it more likely that we reach our dreams, plus it’ll naturally make the journey a lot more fun. Bonus!

It’s so easy to slip into thinking that you won’t be happy until you have reached your goal.

And what happens then? You pack a ton of things on your plate, you work your socks off and one day you find yourself so stressed out and overwhelmed that you wanna call it quits, crawl into bed and sleep until New Year’s Eve.

So I urge you to make happiness a priority now. Not when you “get there”. How do you make happiness a priority? You commit to doing stuff now that will make you happy, and stop postponing it to someday.

Here’s what you can do right now to make that shift. Ask yourself:

What small, easy thing can I do today to feel good?

That could be anything from eating ice cream in the park to finally donating that box of stuff that has been cluttering your living room for ages.

Doing small things like that can make all the difference in how we feel throughout the day, which makes it easier to tackle the big vision stuff to make happiness possible in the long term.

In the comments below, let us know what your little feel good thing is gonna be for today. And then, just go do it.

Author: Iris

Iris Barzen is a psychologist + productivity coach est. 2013.

  • I’ll take that challenge.

    It’s the time of year to start thinking about goals but I’ve been trying not to be so goal focused. Meaning, I want to be less outcome focused, and more being focused. Goals are constantly moving horizons, chasing too many means a spinning compass.

    Does that mean I can’t have happiness as a goal? Hmmm.

    • Glad to hear you’re on board!

      Focusing on the process vs. the outcome is a great way to make sure that you stay on track and don’t feel overwhelmed.

      I think it’s very well possible to have happiness as a goal, but only if you see it as a daily one rather than some far away destination.

  • Oh boy Iris! You could be talking directly to me on this one! I haven’t made friends with my toothbrush or sat in my PJs all day but I have certainly been doing a lot of self beating!

    There’s a few things that came to mind that I know about from personal growth courses I’ve done, but I’m not doing.

    #1 – BE – DO – HAVE: that is the correct order and most of the time most of us spend too much time working towards the HAVE and DO parts and not so much on the BEING. So this hits home for sure. BE happy first, the rest will follow!

    #2 – there’s a great book and audio I’ve listened to but didn’t finish it so now is a good time to start again. It’s called Happy for No Reason by Marci Shimoff (she was in The Secret) http://www.happyfornoreason.com/Home.asp check it out! She’s done all sorts of studies on happy people vs unhappy ones too.

    #3 I’ve also agreed to do this experiment for December so they fit together nicely http://monthlyexperiments.com/practice-mindfulness/ (it’s on Fizzle if you saw that)

    #4 – I’m going to do this with you! You’re not alone. I’m not alone! Let’s do this. Here’s my plan:

    I’m going to START being/doing: listening to one meditation daily (I have one for bedtime on my ipod, no reason not to put it on as I go to sleep). Also: Take regular breaks (every 2 hours walk away from my desk no matter what) to cook and eat healthy food. Drink more water! Not doing that nearly often enough.

    I’m going to stop doing: staying up until 1am or later; watching more than 1 hr of TV daily (it’s crept back up there again and I use it as a “relaxation” crutch when I know it doesn’t work); complaining (also part of the mindfulness experiment) to others and to myself. It’s negative and doesn’t help anyone. I had a boss once that said “don’t bring me a complaint unless you also have the solution for it” – I think that’s brilliant. Complaining is otherwise just whining and it’s pointless.

    Thanks for this Iris!

    • Darlene, I’m so happy you decided to make happiness a priority for yourself. I have to say I was really worried after our little twitter conversation, you remember?

      I saw the post on fizzle and I love it! Seems like we’re all having similar ideas. And it’s interesting to see that so many of us go-getters are into mindfulness and meditation.

      What you said about “Be-Do-Have” really resonates with me. Will have to think about that a little more!

      Also really cool that you want to start meditating regularly. I’ve written a post about it on simple mindfulness after I had just committed to make it a daily practice. I’m at day 58 now :)
      If you want to take a look: http://www.simplemindfulness.com/2012/10/17/create-your-meditation-habit/

      Again, really glad you’re making the switch from overwhelm to happiness. :)

  • I love this idea!!!! After clicking on the link you mentioned written by Jacob, I have decided to focus on “practicing acts of kindness” for the month of December. As for what I’m going to stop for the month of December… I’m at a loss! Will have to think about that one for a bit longer. Thanks for the inspiring post :)

    • Glad to hear that you’re going to participate. Try journaling on what would have the biggest beneficial impact on your life if you stopped doing it consistently. Let me know how it goes. :)

  • Yes. I am in. Everything that involves Happiness automatically checks me in :-)

    You know, Iris, there’s something about deciding to DO something that brings on an adrenalin rush.

    May I write about this on my blog?

    • I’m so excited to have you on board, Vidya. And you’re right about the adrenaline rush, I bet you could become addicted to it. :)

      I’d love it if you could write something about the experiment on your blog!

  • Start meditation and stop sleeping long. That would make me soo proud! And you know where I got that idea? Hm… YOU, sure!

    Love you loads.

    • Thanks, Brendan. Your message seems to be pretty similar to the message of the happiness experiment. If you’re feeling it, I’d love to see you join us. :)

  • Hey Iris, super post. Seriously, don’t underestimate the power this is having on people’s lives. One day in the distant future your gonna look back on this and be soooooo proud. Your doing an amazing job and I’ll certainly be joining. So here it goes:

    I’m gonna swim on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. Maybe once over the weekend too. But definitely the weekdays.

    I’m also going to stop reading and listening to the news as much as I do. Very depressing. Gonna focus more on ways I can help people.

    From Ireland to Iris.

    • Thanks so much, Michael! This comment seriously made my day. :)

      Swimming sounds like a really cool goal. I don’t know if you’ve read the other article (How to Stop Whining Around…) on how to follow through on your new habit.
      It’s good that you said exactly when you’re going to swim. Make sure the “maybe swim” on the weekends doesn’t make it harder to stick to your habit :)

      Watching less news / TV is a great idea. I never watch the news even though I’m a politics and media student. It just makes me aggressive and angry and therefore pretty much useless for the next hour or so.
      For your goal: What exactly is “less” for you? Every other day, only on the weekend, only 30min per day? You need to know your goal if you wanna make it. :)

      Now go ROCK it!

  • I will not stress about anything, release myself from the strain of stressing. I will do small things first, get them out of the way. Count me in!

    • Glad you’re in, Jasper! Setting these happiness goals for yourself is a huge step. Now just be careful to make those goals actionable and measurable. How will you know if you’ve released yourself from the strain of stressing? If you know exactly what your new habit is going to be, it’s a lot easier to follow through and you’ll feel more satisfied when you do, because there won’t be any ambiguity.

  • Although this challenge was posted a little over a year ago, I’m just coming across it now and I plan to make the month of January my challenge. Thanks so much for this article Iris. I’m currently a college student set to graduate this spring and I’m completely lost in this world. Just as you, I’ve thought all along that my happiness would come AFTER I began my career and AFTER I was financially stable. Well, I’m quite tired of being miserable. It’s about time something changes.

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