In a previous post I talked about research that shows that, rather than what we have previously assumed to be the case i.e. that success (the next promotion; pay rise; relationship) leads to happiness, the relationship is actually reversed and happiness leads to success. Rather than happiness coming from the successful achievement of goals such as the above, the ‘Success Leads to Happiness’ equation actually works in the opposite direction. Those people who are happier and more positive are those who then become more successful. Happier sales people make more sales; happier students do better in exams; happier doctors make better diagnoses etc.
I was recently running a Positive Leadership session with a group of young leaders. This session is based on a number of elements of Positive Psychology and as part of the session we talked about this relationship between happiness and success.
While, in principle, the participants ‘got’ the idea, a number of them had trouble translating the theory into some actionable steps they could take.
Some also felt that people were naturally ‘happy’ or ‘unhappy / less happy’ and so didn’t that mean that if you were less happy naturally, you would not become so successful? Was your level of success therefore also pre-set?
Fortunately, there has been research done into this area and so I talked to them about the work of Sonja Lyubomirsky. Lyubomirsky has put together a representation she calls the ‘Happiness Pie’ which looks at the proportion of someone’s happiness that is based on their DNA/genetics (i.e. pre-set) and how much I can be impacted by things they do.
The Happiness Pie shows that while approximately 50% of our happiness level is pretty much set, 10% can be impacted by the circumstances around us (how wealthy we are; our job; whether we are married / in a steady relationship etc.) and the other 40% can be affected by interventions we can choose to make.
So, even if we are not naturally ‘happy’ people, according to Lyubimorsky’s work we can still take steps to boost our pre-set level and as a result, increase our chances of being successful.
There are many steps that you can take to boost your happiness level and these can broadly be thought of as falling into four areas:
As with many things, knowing the theory is one thing, but putting the theory into practice is what you need to do to make a difference.
So, as I said to the Positive Leadership session participants, if you buy into the ‘Happiness leads to Success’ hypothesis, I recommend looking to build the habitual use of some intentional activities in one or more of the four areas above. This approach will help to increase your store of positive emotions and, over time, help you become ‘happier’ than your pre-set level. Not only will this be a better place to live (emotionally) but it is also likely to being / feeling more successful.
What have you got to lose by giving it a go?