Tag Archives: happiness

Which Comes First, Success Or Happiness?

Does success make you happy, or does happiness lead to success?

Success brings happinessMany believe that once they achieve some particular goal, then they will be happy. If they put their nose to the grindstone and work hard now, they will be successful, and therefore happier, at some distant time.

However, decades of research have shown that when we are happy – that is, our mindset and mood are positive – we are smarter, more motivated and thus more successful.

In other words, happiness brings success, not the other way around.

What Is Happiness, Anyway?

Of course, happiness means different things to different people. And only you can determine what makes you happy and how happy you are.

However, generally, happiness – or “subjective well-being” as scientists often call it – is experiencing positive emotions. It is pleasure combined with deeper feelings of meaning and purpose. Happiness implies a positive mood in the present and a positive outlook for the future.

Aristotle used the term eudaimonia, which translates not directly to “happiness” but to “human flourishing.”

By whatever name, the chief ingredient of happiness is positive emotions since happiness is, above all else, a feeling.

Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of North Carolina, identifies these as the ten most common positive emotions . . .

  1. Joy
  2. Gratitude
  3. Serenity
  4. Interest
  5. Hope
  6. Pride
  7. Amusement
  8. Inspiration
  9. Awe
  10. Love

How Does Happiness Benefit You?

An analysis of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people found that happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity and work.

Maybe you are still thinking “of course people who are successful in these areas of their lives are happy. Who wouldn’t be.”

However, study after study shows that happiness precedes important outcomes and indicators of thriving. Happiness causes success and achievement, not the opposite.

Recent research shows that the positive effect of happiness is actually biological. Positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, chemicals that not only make us feel good, but also dial up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels.

Research also shows that you don’t have to be stupefyingly happy to get the positive advantages. Even the smallest shots of positivity can give you a competitive edge.

Positive emotions broaden our intellectual and creative capacities and they counteract physical stress and anxiety.

How To Be Happier

Since positivity is such a good thing, you may be wondering if there are things you can do to increase yours.

If you are lucky, happiness comes naturally to you. Your genetically-determined “set point” of happiness may be higher than others.

But, even if you are not genetically predisposed to be happy, you can reap the benefits of positivity if you work hard enough at it.

If the following activities are performed habitually over time, each has been shown by research to help permanently raise our happiness baseline. (Of course, since happiness is subjective and not the same for everyone, we all have our own favorite happiness booster. And “person-activity fit” is often as important as the activity itself, so if some items on this list do not work for you, don’t force it.)

These are some proven ways to lift your spirits . . .

  • Exercise. As you probably know, exercise releases pleasure-inducing chemicals called endorphins. Exercise also improves your motivation and feelings of mastery, reduces stress and anxiety and helps you get into “flow,” that locked in feeling of total engagement that we usually get when we’re at our most productive.

  • Spend money on experiences, not on stuff. Money can buy happiness, but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things.

    While the positive feelings we get from material objects are frustratingly fleeting, spending money on experiences, especially with other people, produces positive emotions that are both more meaningful and longer lasting.

  • Find something to look forward to. Often the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation. One study showed that people who thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent.

    That’s one reason I maintain my travel bucket list.

  • Commit conscious acts of kindness. A long line of research demonstrates that acts of altruism – giving to friends and strangers alike – decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.

  • Infuse positivity into your surroundings. Our physical environment can have an enormous impact on our mindset and sense of well-being.

    So infuse your surroundings with positivity. Put pictures of loved ones or of treasured experiences in your work area, for example.

  • Meditate. Those who spend years meditating, such as monks, actually grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy.

    Short of that, daily meditating for as little as 5 minutes can bring feelings of calm and contentment, as well as heightened awareness and empathy.

    Research shows that regular meditation can permanently rewire the brain to raise levels of happiness, lower stress and even improve immune function.

  • Exercise a signature strength . Do things you are good at. Studies have shown that the more you use your signature strengths in daily life, the happier you become.

As you integrate these happiness practices into your daily life, you will start to feel better. But you’ll also start to notice how your enhanced positivity makes you more efficient, motivated and productive and how it opens up opportunities for greater achievement.

** This information is drawn from The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work which I highly recommend.

What Positive Psychology Teaches Us About Happiness

What Is Positive Psychology?

Positive PsychologyPositive psychology studies the strengths and virtues that can make us happier and more fulfilled.

Historically, psychology has been primarily concerned with relieving suffering. The focus has been on psychological disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety.

One result of this focus on the negative is that psychology has had little to say about the positive. That is, while psychology has been effective treating problems, it has not offered much guidance on how to be more happy, how to prosper, flourish, thrive.

To correct this imbalance, over the last 10 to 20 years, or so, the field of positive psychology has evolved to empirically study such things as happiness and well-being.

9 Happiness Lessons From Positive Psychology

Research in the field of positive psychology has yielded these valuable lessons that we can apply to our lives:

  • Money doesn’t necessarily buy well-being. Especially where income is above the poverty level, the correlation between wealth and happiness is weak. However, interestingly, research has shown that spending money on other people can make people happier.
  • People who express gratitude regularly are more optimistic, make better progress toward goals and have better physical health and more well-being. And they help others more, too.
  • When people see others perform good deeds, they experience an emotion called ‘elevation’ and its motivates them to perform their own good deeds.
  • In some situations, negative thinking leads to more accuracy and optimistic thinking can be associated with an underestimation of risks.

    However, most of the research shows that people who are optimistic or happy are more successful in work, school and sports; are less depressed; have fewer physical health problems; and have better relationships with other people.
  • People are resilient. Healthy human development can take place even under conditions of great adversity.
  • Engaging in an experience that produces ‘flow’ is particularly gratifying, so gratifying, in fact, that people are willing to do it for its own sake, rather than for what they will get out of it. The activity is its own reward.

    What’s “flow?” It is where you are so fully engaged in an activity that your self-awareness disappears and your sense of time is distorted. Time seems to stand still. Athletes call this being “in the zone.” You’ve probably experienced flow either at work or in some activity that you enjoy and are good at.
  • Strong social relationships and character strengths are some of the best ways to combat disappointments and setbacks.
  • Work can be important to well-being, especially when people are able to engage in work that is purposeful and meaningful.
  • While happiness is influenced by genetics, people can learn to be happier by developing optimism, gratitude and altruism.

Where You Can Learn More About Positive Psychology

You can learn more about positive psychology at the Positive Psychology Center website.

They even have a series of questionnaires, such as the Authentic Happiness Inventory Questionnaire that you can confidentially complete and get immediate feedback on how you compare to others who have completed the questionnaire.

Happiness Through The “Eyes” Of Helen Keller

Helen Keller
Helen Keller
Helen Keller became blind and deaf before she was two years old, but she went on to lead a productive and happy life.

She is quoted as saying this about happiness:

    Be happy. Talk happiness. Happiness calls out responsive gladness in others. There is enough sadness in the world without yours…. Your success and happiness lie in you…. The great enduring realities are love and service…. Resolve to keep happy and your joy and you shall form an invincible host against difficulties.

Let me remind you who Helen Keller was.

Few, if any, would have had a better excuse for being unhappy.

Born in Alabama in 1880, Keller contracted an illness at 19 months that left her blind and deaf. Fortunately, her parents did not give up. They located a teacher, Anne Sullivan, blind herself, to work with Helen.

Anne Sullivan arrived at Keller’s house in March 1887, and immediately began to teach Helen to communicate by spelling words on her hand, beginning with “d-o-l-l” for the doll that she had brought Keller as a present.

Keller’s big breakthrough in communication came the next month, when she realized that the motions her teacher was making on the palm of her hand, while running cool water over her other hand, symbolized the idea of “water.”

With her world thus expanded, Helen went on to graduate from Radcliffe College in 1904, becoming the first deaf and blind person to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree.

While at Radcliffe, with the help of Sullivan and Sullivan’s husband, Keller wrote an autobiography The Story of My Life.

Helen Keller became a world-renowned author and lecturer, and a tireless worker for the rights and interests of the blind, among other causes.

Her story has become known through the play and film about Helen and Anne Sullivan called The Miracle Worker.

Here are a few other quotes from this remarkable woman who overcame extraordinary challenges to find happiness . . .

  • “Although the world is full of suffering, it is full also of the overcoming of it.”
  • “Self-pity is our worst enemy and if we yield to it, we can never do anything good in the world.”
  • “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars or sailed an uncharted land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”
  • “Everything has its wonders, even darkness and silence, and I learn whatever state I am in, therin to be content”
  • “Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.”

5 Ways To Be Happier

A study by statistician Nic Marks and his organization, the New Economics Foundation, found that you can increase your happiness by doing these 5 things . . .

    1. Connect with your loved ones and build strong social relationships.

    2. Be physically active.

    3. Be aware of the world around you, locally and globally.

    4. Engage your curiosity and keep learning your whole life.

    5. Give. Donate money or time to others.

Actually, these findings were part of a presentation Marks made on the need for countries to increase the well-being and happiness of its citizens without doing environmental damage.

Marks’ statistics show that the countries of the world are becoming less efficient at using the earth’s resources. That is, the use of the earth’s resources is increasing much faster than is our well-being.

The goal of countries, says Marks, should be to increase the well-being and happiness of its citizens in an earth-friendly way.

Right now, one country is doing that better than the others.

Is it the United States? No. Great Britain? No. Another Western country? Nope. How about some super-rich Gulf State? No, again.

The country that is providing the most well-being and happiness with the least environmental cost is . . .

Costa Rica.

According to a recent Gallup poll, Costa Rica is the happiest country in the world. And they achieved this distinction while using about 1/4 of the earth’s resources that the U.S. and other Western nations use.

Perhaps the key is that environmental friendliness is policy in Costa Rica which has a declared goal of being carbon neutral by 2021. Already, 99% of Costa Rica’s electricity comes from renewable sources.

Very interesting, don’t you think?