American society is build around consumerism and individual success. We are deeply committed to the ideology that more stuff is better and this has become ingrainded in our psychological habits. Society, schools and jobs have indoctrinated in us the behavioral cycle of striving for success with the expectation that it will bring us happiness. This success could be a graduation, that promotion, that bigger house, shedding 10 pounds
to look great in a new bathing suit. Yet, if it were the case that success equaled happiness, then anyone who had every accomplished anything (which is everyone!), would be happy. But we are not all happy, so obviously this is not the case.
The scientific data in psychology and neuroscience strongly confirms this. In 2005, several of the worlds leading researchers of positive psychology conducted a meta-analysis over 200 studies containing over 275,000. They concluded, without a doubt, that happiness is a pre-cursor to success, not merely the result. Success can not bring us happiness because all humans are subject to something psychologists call hedonistic adaptation. This is our tendency to adjust our emotional response to changes in our environments, back to an initial emotional baseline. When we have a success we almost immediately set our sights on the next goal and our happiness remains perpetually on the horizon just out of reach. One dramatic and well researched example examines lottery winners. Studies of lottery winners find that on average, winners are not any happier a year after they hit the jackpot.
We tend to overestimate the impact events will have on our happiness, from being dumped by our boyfriends to getting that big raise at work. Because of this many people spend their entire lives clinging to the things they have and continually chasing successes and never catching happiness. This is not to say that success is not important and working toward goals is useless. They are critical to leading a well-balanced life and supporting one’s self, but should not be viewed as the path to lasting fulfillment.
Ironically, the best way to resolve this issue is to turn it on it’s head. Rather than going after success with the hope of it generating happiness, pursue happiness and the side effects will include success.
Research over the past 15 years in the field of Positive Psychology has demonstrated that emotional well-being, happiness and positivity generates incredible benefits in nearly every facet of one’s life. Leading researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson has nearly a decade developing what is know as Broaden and Build Theory. She has shown that when individuals are in positive mindsets -in short, when we are happy- we Broaden and Build our emotional, social, intellectual and physical resources.
This means if you are in a good mood you are more creative, learn more quickly, get along with others more easily, problem solve better, are healthier and more resilient to mishaps and stressors. You become more adept at nearly every task and better prepared to handle nearly every situation resulting in being more productive at work, getting along better with co-workers, friend and family, and being the one who has the great idea at the board meeting.
Think about how much time you spend working to get or do some-thing in the hopes it will make you happy. Imagine what an impact just diverting a small percentage of this effort toward making yourself genuinely happier could do. Remember success will not cause happiness, but happiness does promote success.
There is no magic pill to make you happy, it is do-able but just like getting a great physical body, takes committed effort. A good place to start is though maximizing your self-awareness. As this post points out, often we strive in misguided directions is search of satisfaction. Few of us have a truly firm grasp of all of the factors that influence our personal well being. Discovering the areas of well-being you excel in and those you are lacking in will give you a jumping off point from which to initiate change.
To get an objective assessment of your well-being using the multi-dimensional PERMAS model check out HappyIndex