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Creating Successful Leaders

happinessWe tend to think that if we get that job, if we get that promotion, if we find our true love etc., etc., etc., then we will finally be completely, permanently happy.

But this is not true!

Shawn Achor, founder of Good Think Inc., explains why the success-then-happiness formula just plain does not work:

“Every time we hit a success, our brain moves the goalpost of where success is.”

You’ve surely experienced this for yourself. You got a job, for instance, and were elated…for a moment. Then your brain instantly went to the next step. “Okay, you got the job, but are you prepared for the job? Do you have all the resources needed to excel in the job? Is this even the right job for you? Will it lead to better opportunities?”

And in this way you went from feeling accomplished to feeling anxious, all in the blink of an eye.

You can see why grounding your happiness in your successes can become a problem.

The solution to this, although it may be much harder practiced than preached, is to reverse the order of success and happiness. Says Achor:

“If you reverse the formula by pursuing happiness first, you wind up with greater happiness and success.”

The science behind it all? As Achor explains, happiness releases dopamine in the brain. This chemical both leads you to seek out more happiness, and also “turns on every learning center in the brain,” thereby making you three times as creative. As we know, creativity tends to lead to success.

At first I thought this whole reversal of the formula thing sounded a bit too simple to be true. But it’s simplicity is what makes it a challenge to enact in real life. Our culture reinforces the idea that success is the answer to happiness all the time. We treat celebrities like royalty, because they have all the things society tells us give us happiness. At the end of almost any Hollywood movie, the protagonist overcomes a great obstacle and rides off into the sunset, where we are to assume that their success will give them contentment for the rest of their days.

Okay, so success doesn’t necessarily lead to happiness. But how do you reverse the formula?

“As I’ve come to see it, happiness is a work ethic…Happiness isn’t something that happens to you. Happiness is created.”

1. Journal. Your brain works in patterns. If you focus on negative aspects, your brain will form a worldview of negativity, which will become your default setting. By taking time out of your day to write down a few positive things in your life, you will slowly retrain your brain to see the positives. You’ll be happier.

2. Serve, Give, Love. Unhappy people are almost always turned inward. We are social creatures, made to interact. Although it may sound like the worst possible thing to do when you’re at your unhappiest, reaching out to others, serving your community, and building other people up will give you a greater sense of meaning and self-worth.

3. Pause. Our instinct when we are stressed is to push ourselves harder. This actually neglects the underlying problem by giving us an excuse in the form of a distraction. Force yourself to stop and be still. Perhaps this is the time for you to journal. Let go of your troubles, even if for a moment.


Achor, Shawn. “Scientific Proof That Happiness Is A Choice.” Accessed March 27, 2013.

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