It's hard to find happiness after success if the goalposts of success keep changing. But reversing the formula can help you turn happiness into greater success rates. Read More
Great suggestions and observations.
My 2 cents would be about what we're exposed to in our daily lives. "I'll be happy when ... " is not something you're born with it's something you learn from others and they learn it just as you will continue to learn it from something you see every day. What is that you ask? It's advertisment. We all see them be it on TV, online, or driving down the road. It's hard to stay away from them unless you lock yourself in the basement and turn the ligt off - a lot of good that will do you. But all advertisments are built on "You'll be happy when you buy our product/order our service ... ". It's a shame that some very bright psychologists were pulled into the ever growing gigantic business that is advertisment. So my suggestion to help you reverse the fromula would be to take the fight elsewhere. I was privileged to take a "Media education" class in elementary school. It taught me a lot. The very simplest of things make a pretty tempting big picture. The commercials create the need in you, they abuse your "want to be happy" system and then give you a false solution for it - only to dispair once the promised happiness is nowhere to be found (sounds familiar?).
So in my opinion it would be crucial that you educate people on the psychology behind the ad business aswell, after all, who knows it might have been the commercials that taught us this reversed happiness formula in the first place.
Great points! "I'll be happy when...I drink this product, or buy this house, or wear this deodorant." Scientists know you can buy happiness, but not that way. Research shows that pro-social spending, giving to charities or to provide for a friend or to create a social engagement, has much longer lasting effects upon happiness. The advertisers are not to be blamed. They merely highlight a need in our lives that we want filled. And advertisers cannot stop, that's their job. I think the real work needs to be done at the individual level. By developing positive habits and a happiness advantage mindeset, we can create happiness instead of trying to find it. Thank you for your great and thoughtful comment!
Once you think about it. If we're reversing the success-happy formula we could also reverse advertisments. If there would be a positive change ad on TV every once in a while, it could have a great effect - particularly due to the stigma on mental health (people would see it's nothing unusual and get some good advice on the matter).
Thanks for this happy post. I am going to give some of the exercises you suggest a try. I'm already doing some of them (exercise and meditation) and have certainly noticed an improvement in my overall happiness. Maybe it's placebic but the result is still highly positive.
I'm also doing a couple other things I've read that improve happiness. I'm purposefully grinning in the morning--often before getting out of bed-- and throughout the day (but not in front of others since this may look a bit strange).
Also, I consciously dismiss negative thoughts as much as I can and try to write about that things I feel good about in my journal each day. Also, my wife and I, as a supper-time ritual, ask our three kids and each other "what was good about today" and we all have a jolly time hearing how the 4-yr old loved some bowl of noodles.
But....I also write some negative stuff in my journal. I'm not sure this has been a good thing but in a way, it compartmentalizes my "troubles" and actually belittles them (I'm a very fortunate person who does not have real problems that many in the world must face). And it's sort of cathartic to vent these negative thoughts (usually relationship things with loved ones or co-workers). The danger is that it's written now and I can go back and stir up negative things. And I've done this but for me there's usually a sense of "why was I so upset" when I go back and read that stuff. So now when I have what I feel are negative thoughts (just downer attitude) I recall that old negative stuff is not so negative after some time and that this current unhappiness is probably ephemeral too.
As long as you're not taking pills you can be reasurred that the result is not a placebo.
Writing down some trouble does indeed help you get a better perspective on things it helps you to detach from the problem. You go from "I feel" to "The person who wrote this felt". It's you in both cases but to evaluate an event properly you need to be bias free - writing the problem down can help. If the problem still evokes some negative emotion after you go and read it later on it could be that it is still unresolved - you still didn't get to the core of it and said to yourself fair's fair. Like you say in the end it passes by eventually, someday you can even laugh at how foolish a reaction might have been.
But I did notice you seem to value yourself a bit less because of "(I'm a very fortunate person who does not have real problems that many in the world must face)" - or maybe it's just a general sense you have about things. Either way just wanted to point that out so you can be more aware of what's going on.
I write negative things down deliberately. They are more likely to resolve themselves somewhat when I write them. If I keep them in my head they go in circles. I don't reread them -- writing them was the job at hand. Every few weeks I shred them. The process makes me feel more able to manage negative emotions, rather than feel trapped by them.
Great comment thread. Researchers like Pennebaker have found a cathartic effect caused by journaling about negative experiences, however there is a large caveat: if you are depressed, then journaling about negative experiences can cause rumination and makes depression more protracted. I think it is like everything in life: it is how your brain processes it. If you journal about experiences to have power over them, then you will find that benefit. If you journal because you feel that your life is so negative you need a safety valve, then your body and brain will scan the world for constant threats or chances for negativity. Thanks for your comments!
Good stuff. It's so true that we must avoid the trap of equating future material success with happiness, but it's so anti-intuitive. The field of positive psychology produces many well-known pointers, but some of them are hugely counter-intuitive.
On the gratitude point: it's a great idea to count your blessings. But someone on psychology today made a great point: we should also try to imagine what our lives would be like if our blessings were taken away from us. God, I can't stress enough how TRUE it is that we don't appreciate what we have until it's taken away. Some of us learn these things brutally. There is a better way.
Anyway, I did my best to summarise the science of happiness here:
That is quite a comprehensive list on your blog, thank you for sharing. Some people say that imagining a world without all our blessings can increase stress. I would like to be grateful for what I have in the present, while imagining a world where I am STILL grateful even if all these things are taken away.
Why can't people just BE happy? Why the need for a science on happiness, books, courses, seminars, etc.? All happiness is is a change in perception. Accept what you can't change, change what you can and realise that you can only control two things in this world; your thoughts and your actions
This is what I do and I'm not only happy, but I'm also content
Look in the mirror and smile ;) Have a lovely day
Interesting, my response would be: why can't everyone just BE smart? That's because intelligence, like happiness, has a genetic component. Some people are born smarter or happier than others. But that is not the end of the story. If we make happiness not something that just happens, but something that we work for, and cultivate, then we can raise our happiness longterm. We exercise our bodies to become more fit, we can exercise our brains to become happier. That way, when we are challenged by the external world, we have not fleeting happiness, but well practiced happiness. When asked what the fastest way to enlightenment is, the Dalai Lama merely responded, "I inch my way forward every day." Even for him, happiness and joy require discipline, determination and effort.
Hi Shawn, I would be happy if I could have my Dad back. Now, this is lugubrious. I want something that no amount of materialistic value can replace. I lost him last year. It was hard to feel grateful of what you have, nor feeling whole when the one you really want is not there. I wish what I wanted would be something more realistic.
I am fighting daily to reverse the mindset. A great trusting friend has helped. He's given me some ropes. I've started taking them recently, having rejected many attempts before.
I came across your profile on Speakers platform. I do three of your list. Number 5 is hard because not everyone has the skill of friendly praise writing. Some people can be either praising too much to the point of being silly and odd resulting in negative effect from the receiver or praising awkwardly when never done it before.
Hereafter, I am following you ;). Will purchase your book asap! I'm aiming for the growth you talked about.
My personal success will be when I can accept that I can't bring my Dad back to live, whatever I do. Happiness fuels success as you said. I'm still looking for this in the core of my soul.
How did you climb out of your past depression? Is that in the book?
Thank you for spreading your findings.
CS :) (should never have left Bali!)
For step 5 it can be as simple as stating "thinking of you today. I am grateful we are friends"
poetry not required. Just keep it simple for yourself. Like any of the exercises the habit of thinking in that manner is the power. Who do you have in your life that you are grateful for - let them know!"
Easy for you to say. You are on the faculty at Harvard, work with Fortune 500 companies, and have an established consulting firm. I just lost my faculty job, am divorced, and separated from my children. Why is it that whenever you see someone advocating happiness as a path to success, they are already successful. It would be refreshing to see someone who is an established abject failure arguing being grateful, blah blah blah as a path to success.
^ Interested in seeing a direct reply to this one
Also, people that are wealthy that still aren't happy: sure, they face the same problems other do like heart break, family/friends dying, etc. but I like to think I could lead a "happier" life with a fortune than I can working a full time job, comparatively speaking. I can still be happy in both scenarios, I just think having massive wealth has the potential to make things easier on an individual.
Hi, cbook :)
I dont think Shawn is advocating happiness or gratefulness as a path to success. What he's saying is that positive attitude gives you an advantage over those who don't have it. If you feel better, you perform better at everything you do. And if you perform a little bit better at everything, over a lifetime it may make a really big difference in the amount of success you'll experience. It's just very difficult to be effective at anything if you're down on yourself. In that respect it works very much like physical health and fitness. Having it doesn't make you a success, but it does make achieving anything much easier than it would be have you not had it.
What Shawn is also saying is that happiness is more of a skill, a habit of the mind than it is any effect of external stimulus. And as such, you can choose to cultivate it so that in few weeks or months or years you can be happy no matter what or you can choose not to in which case it will be difficult for you to be happy ever – you will be going through life thinking that achieving the next thing will make you happy, and then the next, and then the next, and then you'll find yourself dying regretting that you didn't just let yourself to be happy all the time and feel like wasted your life pursuing all this, at the end worthless, stuff.
So it's not a path to success. But it makes succcess easier, and when it comes – bigger. And it's just a better way to approach life I believe ;) Because if you can't be happy now, it's likely you won't be able to be happy anytime in the future no matter what you will have or what you wont have. There will always be a better place to be, a better lifestyle to have, a better thing to be doing. If you're comparing what you have with the better thing today, you'll be doing the same once you have the better thing. Because there will still be some even better things. And that's how many billionaires end up owning jets and yachts and still being miserable workaholics who aren't able to simply enjoy what they have but always need even more. It's a habit.
I mean – at one point in time you had a family and a job, right? So, I guess, you were getting up at 7 am with a smile so big you could eat a banana sideways, thanking God for another beautiful day he gave you, then with no smaller smile you were literally flying to your job and performing it with a feeling of excitement and gratefulness for being privileged to perform it and bla bla bla, you know what I'm getting at don't you ;) Happiness is first a choice and then a habit. And while the circumstances may make it easier or more difficult to be happy, at the end of the day it's still your choice.
Ok, now for the path to success.
Path to success, as I see it, is monumental amount of a good, organized effort :) What I mean by that is that you have to decide definitely what you want from life so that instead of wandering and thinking how did it happened and searching for excuses your whole mind (especially the unconscious part of it) is busy working on hitting the specific target you gave it. Then you can organize all of your resources – time, money, knowledge, access to knowledge you have thanks to the internet and libraries and bookshops, skills, relationships etc. to first figure out how to get where you want to get and then to get there.
It's important to remember that during the "figure out" part your idea of what is possible for you and what you really want will be propably changing so don't try to get it perfect, just get it going. Also don't try to come up with a perfect plan for how to get from where you are to where you want to be. Even after exhausting preparation and contemplation your idea of how thinggs work will still slihgtly differ from how they actually work. That's why you have to try your ideas, get real-life feedback as frequently as you can, record the effects, analyze what worked and what did not, do more of what worked and less of what didn't, try new ideas. That's how you progress in life. And you do that all the way down the road till you hit your target. Planning and moving aren't separate steps – you do both all the time, analyze results and adjust.
The idea here is simply to get moving in the right direction and keep moving in the right direction all the time - step by step, checking the course and correcting it as you're progressing. And when you're moving in the right direction for long enough you eventually get where you wanted. Nothing airy-fairy here.
And at the end remember - the beauty of life is in the struggle. It really is. I mean, imagine life without it - world when no one competes for anything, where there is nothing to work on, nothing to improve, nothing to fight for, no problems to solve – you know, everything is just perfect. What would you live for? You'd get up in the morning and what? Walk around the block with family? You might think it would be nice but you'd really go nuts after 5 minutes. People NEED problems. Otherwise you couldn't have purpose in life. And men can't live without purpose. And to have a purpose you first need something to be screwed up so that you can work on it. Once you solve a problem (achieve a goal), you will realize that you need to find another one to work on. So enjoy the struggle, and be grateful for the screwed up world and life – life wouldn't make sense if it all were just fine. Plus, recognize problems for what they really are – oportunities to grow, so that you can solve them and then aim higher :D And no - being grateful for your problems and looking at them as opportunities to grow isn't a path to success. It's just, I believe, a better way to approach problems :D Because problems are gonna be there – like it or not. And thank God they're gonna be there.
And in case you were wondering - I think I actually am something you could call an established abject failure ;) But I'm happy.
I don't know if that was what you needed or wanted to hear.
I just hope this was helpful.
Wish you luck,
I'm sorry to hear about your current frustrations (it sounds like a very difficult period of life), and I respect your comment. Let me respond to a few points: 1. The only authors and speakers you hear talking about happiness will by definition be at a certain level of success. But that does not mean only people who are successful (by worldly standards) are the ones talking about happiness. Listen for refugees after natural disasters, individuals in breast cancer support groups, parents of children with physical challenges, or doctors in children oncology wards. Some of them are making the exact same claims that happiness provides advantages to your health and future.
2) You said it is easy to be happy because things are going well. This is false. If it were true, then every rich person you know would be happy. And every poor person you know would be unhappy. Is every married person happy? Is every divorcee unhappy? Is every celebrity you know happy? Every professional athlete? Let me turn the question around: do you know happy divorcees? Do you know happy people who are unemployed? If so then why is happiness harder for some rather than others? Only 10% of happiness is based upon the external world. The majority of happiness is about how your brain processes the world. Plato says, "Be kind because everyone is fighting a tough battle." This is true even for "successful" authors. I'm not defined by my successes as Marek excellently responded.
3) Finally, and most importantly, notice how you defined your life. You defined it based on three challenging components. I only know three negative things about you, and none of the good. I could do the same with my life. I could define myself by all the negative things going on. But you merely highlighted the positive aspects of my life. That is unfair, though understandable as someone would only write the positive parts in their bio. I would encourage you to read about post traumatic growth (see my article on HBR on the subject http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2011/03/growth_after_disaster_going_be.html). Is growth possible after losing a job or after a divorce? Look around for examples. If it is possible, then pursue that possibility instead of letting the external world define happiness.
Thank you for your comment and best wishes on using this research to find a way to create post-traumatic growth. Happiness is a choice based upon how your brain decides to process the world in which you find yourself. But above all, let's be compassionate. Happiness (for the longterm) is not easy, but it is possible.
Hey Jeff, or whomever... I love this idea. I have a lot of really strong personal attributes... but happiness hasn't always been a strong one. Blah blah blah on all the reasons why. I could list them all out for you but it's really just water under the bridge. Short end: life has been hard. For 35 yrs. BUT. I'm down for this challenge! I am home schooling my 4 kids this year and we need a change of pace, new vision for our family, and everyone needs to get over the "woe is me" victim-mentality crap. SO. I'm going to start this next Monday with my 4 kids. We are going to implement all 5 challenges into our daily schedule for 21 days ...and longer. I'm going to keep all their journals and notes, etc and I'll be blogging every day about it. Should be an interesting transformation! I'm excited.
Oh, and my husband is from Waco. He's tickled that you're a "local." hahahaha
It's too bad that Buddhist mindfulness is not more prevalent in our society. It teaches that our perspectives, beliefs, perceptions distort the true nature of reality. We see things from our own perspective (the way we want to see them), not how they truly are. We let these blinders dictate how we see the world, instead of seeing it as infinitely changing form in the present. Everything is changing always, nothing is ever the exact same. So why do we cling onto things that are not permanent? This author advocated meditation daily, well through meditation you come naturally to the conclusions I touched base upon earlier. I know this is not 100% relevant, but the fact that he mentioned meditation opened up Pandora's box.
I think your post IS 100% relevant! You're right, Buddhism does teach that illusions about how we construct the world decrease our happiness. And I wish Buddhism thinking was more prevalent, as I wish Christian thinking was as well. I studied both at the Divinity School before getting into positive psychology. Christianity teaches that "we must no longer conform to the patterns of this world but be transformed by the renewing of our minds." (Romans 12:1) Positive psychology merely validates what religions have been teaching for thousands of years. Thank you for bringing this up!
Thank you for your helpful presentation, it really struck a chord with me and I'm enjoying being grateful on a daily basis (I even wrote a '3' on my laptop next to the power button to remind me to take time each morning for the exercise). I've found it helps if I try for a grateful thought about each of Elivis' happiness vectors:
I don't know what elivis' is (I thought maybe you meant Elvis?) ;) but whatever it is, I love the 3 beside the power button on your laptop! Such a great idea, and the 3happiness vectors are now going to guide me through stating the 3things I am grateful for each day!
Thank you for sharing!
I think this post is right on, except for two areas.
(1) Much of this post is presented from the perspective of psychology, which makes it seem more "woo-woo" than it should be. Recent breakthroughs in empirical neuroscience (See David Rock's book Your Brain at Work or Jeff Schwartz's book, You are Not Your Brain), give the idea of being positive a solid scientific foundation. These studies have shown that using "self-directed neuroplasticity" or "mindfulness" to be positive changes the chemical mix in the brain as well as causes a rewiring of neurons into positive paths. The exercises in the post would lead to these sustaining the positive physical changes but they have to be repeated consistently for a period of time.
(2) This is really about helping individuals. We use the same idea for acheiving extraordinary performance in the work place. When people envision themselves as making an extraordinary social contribution in the work place (similar to Dan Pink's "purpose")there is a huge increase in professional success AND happiness. But the focus on acheiving a greater social good comes first, as suggested in the post.
I am, I believe, predisposed to being a "glass half empty" person. Despite this I have had a relatively happy life thus far. I am the mom of a 16 year old who is definitely even more negative than I; she is fine but definitely in need of some optimism--she recognizes this in herself. I am hoping that she can learn to become more happy and optimistic at this age, with the result being more success and contentment as she enters adulthood. We have decided together to do the 21 day challenge as 2012 begins. We made our first journal entries today, listing the threee things for which we are grateful. I will let you know of our progress.
...is a choice you make. I truly believe this. Sometimes its a harder choice to make than other times, but its always a choice. Abraham Lincoln said, "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be." So lets all just make up our minds to be happy!!
I'm the marketing assistant for Robert Scheinfeld, a NY Times bestselling author who just wrote a new book on how to be happy. It's called "The Ultimate Key To Happiness." It offers a v-e-r-y different approach to defining what happiness really is, and a very different step-by-step path to experience it all the time, no matter what's going on around you. The Internet has gotten so complex. So many options. Can anyone here share ideas for how to get the word out there about this important new book? I'd love to hear your ideas. I'm sure there are tons of ideas I've never thought of before.
Well one would be similar to what you're doing here - market on avenues (forums) suitable for the topic (happiness), however, you must note that this article is very old and as such your comment will be read by at most 10-20 people over the next year or so (unless some extraordinary conditions are involved). So my suggestion would be bring up your google and find people who want the answer you're giving - google the question the book answers. Sure it may seem tedious at some points to answer only one person at a time but eventually the word will spread and reach a wider audience, even in your search you should come across a more visited site (eg. a more recent article or a forum of some sort). That would be about the best way to go about it.
Just found this site. No posts since November...is this forum still active? Thank you!
It's not exactly a forum. Each article on PT has a comment section which tends to drop in activity as the article gets older. I do tend to check up on things since I get an email about it, but as you can see, I haven't done that in a while.
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Shawn Achor is an expert on human potential and the author of The Happiness Advantage.
When and how should we open up to loved ones?