How Being Happy Now Leads to Future Success
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True or false: Success leads to happiness.
I'm not usually a betting woman, but I'd wager big money you believe that's
true. You hopefully have first-hand experience of the joy resulting from any
number of favorable life circumstances, like a comfortable income, a promotion,
marriage, prestige, good health or friendship.
But would it surprise you to learn that if we flipped this cause and effect
statement around and suggested that happiness leads to success, it would also be
true? Recent medical research explains why.
Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., of University of California, Riverside, and
co-authors Laura King, Ph.D., of University of Missouri, Columbia and Ed Diener,
Ph.D., of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign examined 225 studies to
determine how happiness and positive affect are related to culturally-valued
success. While they don't dispute that success does lead to happiness, they also
found that success results from happiness as well.
"Our review provides strong support that happiness, in many cases, leads to
successful outcomes, rather than merely following them," said Lyubomirsky, "and
happy individuals are more likely than their less happy peers to have fulfilling
marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community
involvement, robust health and even a long life."
How does happiness create success? The researchers propose that people who
generally feel that life is going well "can expand their resources and
friendships; they can take the opportunity to build their repertoire of skills
for future use; or they can rest and relax to rebuild their energy after
expending high levels of effort." In other words, when we are not using all of
our energy to protect or defend ourselves or recover from a perceived loss, we
can turn our energy outward toward new goals and achievements.
"When people feel happy," Lyubomirsky continues, "they tend to feel
confident, optimistic, and energetic, and others find them likable and sociable.
Happy people are thus able to benefit from these perceptions."
When we're happy, we're likely to take on new challenges, make new social
connections, learn new skills and get curious about learning new things. If
you're interested in personal growth, being happy is an effective
strategy.However, being happy for no reason is a challenge. If you're happiness
usually depends on something happening to you--like finding a great bargain,
enjoying beautiful weather, or receiving a compliment--it can seem strange to
try to get happy just for the sake of being happy. Yet if we operate according
to the findings of Lyubomirsky and her colleagues, this is exactly what we need
At the risk of seeming naively optimistic, I can share with you that I
personally start every day intentionally getting into a good mood. I don't mean
getting calm or peaceful or unstressed, I mean downright glad. Here are some
things that work for me as well as some additional ideas that may work for you:
-listen to a song that makes you feel good (I have a couple of songs on my
laptop specifically for this purpose)
-read an uplifting quote (I have a collection of these)
-browse through notes of appreciation that people have sent you (I have a
collection of these too--feel free to add to them at any time...)
-think about something you are grateful for
-reflect on past successes
-take a few deep breaths
-focus on something in your environment that is beautiful or enjoyable
-look at happy pictures of yourself
-read or tell a joke
-say hello to your co-workers with a smile
-play with one of the "executive toys" on your desk
Intentionally getting into a good mood for no reason doesn't mean being in
denial about reality. The authors note that happy people are capable of
experiencing sadness and negative emotions in response to negative events, which
is a healthy and appropriate response.
They are also clear that happiness is not a "magic elixir" or a "royal road
to the perfect life." Other characteristics such as intelligence, perseverance
and conscientiousness are desirable traits, but not the same as happiness.
Being happy is simply about creating a fertile internal landscape where
growth, openness and curiosity can thrive and flourish. And since being happy is
what most of us want out of work and out of life, isn't the freedom and ability
to be happy the ultimate success?
A note to managers
As a manager, the idea of trying to increase your team members' happiness may
strike you as too touchy-feely, too much like parenting, or simply impossible.
Instead, you may want to consider encouraging, and even more importantly,
modeling, characteristics that the researchers found correspond to happiness,
such as "confidence, optimism, and self-efficacy; likeability and positive
construal of others; sociability, activity and energy; prosocial behavior;
immunity and physical well-being; effective coping with challenge and stress;
and originality and flexibility."
This may involve:
-promoting pleasant, respectful behavior and addressing rudeness
-encouraging your team to take care of their health and physical well-being
-offering training and techniques for handling stress and managing their
-promoting work-life balance and making it permissible to turn work off
-giving positive feedback; the study shows that happy people are more
sensitive to rewards in their environment, and are more likely to approach
More effective than any of these ideas is the strategy of focusing on your
own good mood, and looking for small but frequent opportunities to express it.
The article cites a study that shows that mildly unhappy (dysphoric) people are
likely to under-perform in leadership and social positions. Human emotions are
complex, and can't be regulated by policies and procedures. If your staff
perceives an inauthentic optimism or feels that they must force a smile no
matter what the challenge, any attempts at false happiness can certainly
backfire. As with many useful management techniques, talking the talk before we
walk the walk won't get us far. How you feel and act likely has a greater impact
About the Author
Cristin is a member of the Network for Productivity Excellence and is a
certified GO System trainer. She specializes in teaching busy, creative
professionals in healthcare and higher education, and her clients include groups
and individuals at Harvard University, Dartmouth College, Massachusetts General
Hospital, Partners Healthcare, MIT, Boston University and Eli Lilly.
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Article Published/Sorted/Amended on Scopulus 2008-03-06 12:53:08 in Personal Articles