Most of us are familiar with the causality dilemma, which came first: the chicken or the egg? It’s often used to describe situations in which it isn’t clear which event is the cause and which is the effect. In a similar vein, it’s often believed that being successful will lead to or result in happiness. If you follow that logic, if you work really hard to accumulate a lot of money, power, influence, and/or status, then you should be happy.

But according to psychologist Shawn Achor, who has studied happiness extensively and written the best-selling book, The Happiness Advantage, the reverse is true: happiness brings success. In other words, you should strive to be happy and success will follow. Instead, what most of us do is chase after success, hoping it will make us happy.

For example:

“If I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happy”

“If I buy a better car, I’ll be happy”

“If I sell more widgets than everyone else on my sales team, I’ll be happy”

“If I have more designer shoes, then everyone will envy me and I’ll be happy”

However, Achor notes that research finds even when we achieve a goal, the so-called pleasure associated with it fades and we are then chasing after success again. But if we focus on happiness by increasing our optimism and our social connections, we can achieve success. Optimism is the belief that your actions and behaviors matter in challenging situations, while your social connection is whether you have deep, meaningful social relationships.

Achor explains that “You can increase your success rates for the rest of your life and your happiness levels will flatline, but if you raise your level of happiness and deepen optimism it turns out every single one of your success rates rises dramatically compared to what it would have been at negative, neutral, or stressed.”


Achor proposes four tips on how to achieve happiness.

1. View problems as challenges rather than as threats.

You may be familiar with this concept. Why do some people, for example, view a 12-hour delay at an airport as a threat or crisis and others take a deep breath and perceive it as a time to catch up on reading, emails, or sleep? People who are happy have learned how to view the stressors that life throws at them as something positive and challenging.

According to Sonja Lyubomirsky, the author of The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, the happiest people face stress, anxiety, and tragedy in their lives, and these situations cause them distress and emotional turmoil, but “their secret weapon is the poise and strength they show in coping in the face of challenge.”

Stanford psychologist Kelly McGonigal, who authored The Upside of Stress, believes stress can make us happier and smarter if we accept and embrace it.” “Once you appreciate that going through stress makes you better at it, it can be easier to face each new challenge,” she says.

2. Seek more social support when faced with more work.

Achor points out that individuals who weather stressful periods the best are those who increase their social connections during the trying times. However, many people do the opposite and lock themselves away, working harder and longer but not necessarily better. Social connections are the best predictors of happiness, says Achor. Giving and receiving support from friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers is a sure ingredient for happiness and success.

3. Send a thank you message daily.

This may sound like a small and silly gesture, but Achor swears it works—and it has been proven when incorporated into businesses such as Microsoft, US Foods, and Facebook. Every day, as soon as you get into the office (or you sit at your computer at home) send someone an email or text thanking or praising them for something they have said, done, or simply for being them. Achor has conducted this experiment in businesses and found that when employees sent these thank you messages for 21 days straight, it increased “their social connection which is the greatest predictor of happiness we have in organizations.” 

4. Practice the 20-second rule.

We all know there are positive actions and habits we can adopt that can improve our quality of life and our happiness, yet we struggle to do them. That’s where the 20-second rule comes in. Achor proposes that if we make a positive habit a few seconds easier to initiate (or harder in some cases), we’re more likely to do it.

For example, Achor admits to sleeping in his gym clothes and keeping his athletic shoes next to the bed so he would be more ready to exercise in the morning. Want to eat a nourishing breakfast but don’t have time in the morning? Put together overnight oatmeal in a jar the night before so it will be ready in the morning.

Adapt this rule to activities or habits you want to adopt to improve your happiness. Some of the other activities Achor recommends for improving happiness are meditation, exercise, and writing down the things you are grateful for on a daily basis.

If you want to be happy and successful, make sure you approach this goal in that order. When you make conscious efforts to adopt positive perspectives and habits into your life, you will be well on your way to happiness and success.


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