Happiness Is Not The Result Of Success

In our #HWPO article I talked about the value of hard work combined with the fact you have to ensure you are also replenishing your mental and physical energy tanks to avoid declining performance and burnout.

Part of the article was written by our resident mindset coach Tom Foxley who mentioned the following:

“The big secret of successful people, athletes or otherwise, is that whilst they work hard, they aren’t forcing progress. It comes naturally to them because their mindset is aligned with the actions they take.”

This is something I wanted to expand on but felt it deserved a seperate piece of writing.

We all have hopes and dreams, goals we want to accomplish and things we’d like to change about ourselves or our lives. BUT if you are not happy before you reach those destinations, it is very unlikely you will be happy after them.

Don’t misunderstand this, there’s no doubt that happiness is the result of achievement. As James Clear rightly says:

“Winning a championship, landing a better job, finding someone you love — these things will bring joy and contentment to your life. But so often, we wrongly assume that this means happiness always follows success.

How often have you thought, ‘If I just get ___, then I’ll be set.’

Or, ‘Once I achieve ___, I’ll be satisfied.’”

 

Happiness Is Not An Event

Assuming happiness comes after success is something we are all guilty of in some way or another. And the modern world only heightens this feeling because society defines success in terms of material things.

How often have you heard, or said the following:

 “I know I’ll be successful when I have a big house, a few nice cars, and I made several hundred thousand pounds per year, and I can holiday to exotic places whenever I wish. Once I reach that, I’ll be happy.” 

BUT the trouble with this type of mindset is that once you reach a milestone, you will always shift your attention to the next one. So you end up pushing ‘true happiness’ farther and farther into the distance.

Will Aylward sums this up nicely:

“This focus on the next thing looks suspiciously like the journey we find ourselves caught up in as children. Little school. Big school. First job. Better job. Buy a house. Promotions. Buy a bigger house. Work. Working harder. Harder still.”

There will always be more. More success (whatever that looks like for us individually). More money, bigger houses, faster cars. We have to decide, at what point we are ‘’there’’? What if we were there now? What if we already have everything we need to be content and simply enjoy our lives, even if there’s more we’d like in the future?

 

Happiness Is The Journey

My own personal experience with this was my pursuit to pass selection and serve with UK Special Forces. From as young as five years old I knew I wanted to join the military, and specifically the Royal marines. I even have a photo to prove it from primary school when the teacher asked us to write out signs of what we wanted to be as grown ups!

And in my head the pinnacle of this would be serving with the SBS. Fame and fortune as a professional sports person, actor, racing driver or any of the similar aspirations of my friends held no appeal. 

Looking back, I can’t even tell you what planted the seed. And I didn’t really talk about my eventual goals of Special Forces to anyone, even up to the point when I put my chit in for it.

The day that I actually ‘badged’ as a member of the SBS was the achievement of a lifetime ambition and the culmination of years of hard work, so you’d think it would also mean peak happiness. In a way it was, but for only a short period, and in all honesty it was more a sense of satisfaction than happiness. 

I passed the 6 month long arduous course just as summer was starting and the following months were filled with much needed relaxation, basking in the knowledge I had fulfilled a childhood dream. But even before the summer was over, and long before I left the service, I was already looking for the next challenge.

Not because I was discontented, I loved the job and enjoyed the life that came with it, but because I am at my best when I’m striving towards something big. 

Passing selection was immensely satisfying but I didn’t need it to make me happy, because I was already happy. I was serving in the military, doing the job I always wanted to do, and every day I was working towards my goal of attempting selection.

The journey, my daily process, was where my happiness came from, and that is still true now. Going back to Tom’s quote, I didn’t have to force my process because I loved it for the sake of it, in and of itself. My mindset was totally aligned with what I was doing.

Happiness is a journey. It’s a series of choices you make every day.

I was lucky enough from a young age to know what I wanted to do, but I understand it takes some people a long time to figure it out, if ever. In fact when I left the military I had a period of about 6 months feeling at a loss until I found a new path. So it may be that you are doing something you don’t necessarily love. But there are many ways to find happiness.

 

The Goal Is Not The Objective

Something very important to remember is that the only reason you want to achieve a goal is because you believe it is going to make you feel a certain way.

We don’t want more money for the sake of more money; we may want the feeling of security we believe it will give us, or perhaps a feeling of significance.

We don’t want fast cars for the sake of fast cars; we want the feeling of fun we experience when driving at speed or maybe the sense of freedom the car gives us.

It’s always the feelings we want. 

But you can do things every day that give you these same feelings: Taking time out in nature can provide a sense of freedom. Appreciating what you already have, including your health can give you a sense of security.

There are a million and one ways you can have fun today, without waiting for a fast car to be in your driveway; people-watching over coffee, calling an old friend, reading or watching a movie—the list of simple pleasures are endless.

This doesn’t mean giving up on having the success you want. There is nothing wrong with wanting and receiving the objects of your desires. Just understand that there is a very good chance you won’t be happier once you are ‘successful’.

As Alan Watts said about getting to the end of our lives after chasing the elusive next thing: 

“But we missed the whole point all along, it was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing or dance whilst the music was being played.”

 

Success Comes Before Happiness

But what if you really want to change your circumstances?

Well it would seem that happiness is essential to building the skills that allow for success.

In other words, happiness is both the precursor to success and the result of it. 

In fact, researchers have often noticed a compounding effect or an “upward spiral” that occurs with happy people. They are happy, so they develop new skills, those skills lead to new success, which results in more happiness, and the process repeats itself.

According to Happiness Researcher and New York Times bestselling author Shawn Achor, thinking ‘success brings happiness’ actually goes against the brain’s natural tendency which is to perform better under the influence of dopamine, and worse under the influence of cortisol.

Dopamine is the “happiness” hormone; it’s release in the body is caused by positive emotions, laughter, good food, and things of that nature. Whereas cortisol is the opposite side of the coin, it’s release is triggered by stress in all its forms.

If Achor’s research is any indication, it would seem that our brains actually evolved to use happiness as a kind of spring-board from which to reach success, whatever that may look like for you. In his 2011 Tedx talk Achor says:

“Dopamine which floods into your system when you’re positive has two functions, not only does it make you happier but it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain. Allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.”

So essentially, dopamine is to the brain what oil is to cogs in a machine.

Being in a state of happiness would let you perform better, and in essence facilitate your success.

Achor calls this the happiness advantage:

  • More brain-power
  • More creativity
  • More energy

All metrics which have been measured on people whose brains were under the influence of dopamine.

So the more you can make a conscious effort to make your happiness a priority now, the more it will benefit you in the future in the pursuit of your goals.

In fact, as a result of seeking the things that make you happy you will be more likely to attract the types of opportunities, experiences, and people you want in your life.

 

Where To Go From Here

There’s nothing wrong with being ambitious.

Like many of us, I’m driven. I love to challenge myself, set goals, and do my best to achieve them.

But there will always be more. More success (whatever that looks like for us individually). More money, bigger houses, faster cars. We have to decide, at what point we are ‘’there’’. 

Because, if we really look for it what if we are there now? 

What if we already have everything we need to be content and simply enjoy our lives, even if there’s more we’d like in the future?

I think there are two things you can choose to do that will automatically increase your levels of happiness today:

  1. Spend time with those you love: Surrounding yourself with the right people each day goes a long way in shaping our experiences through life. I’ve spent hours, days and weeks doing some things that would otherwise have been awful if it had not been for the people around me.
  2. Actively work to improve aspects of your life: If you can fall in love with the process you are 90% there. Find a way to enjoy making yourself a better person each day and the reward will be a hugely satisfying life.

Happiness is really does not have to be complicated. It’s basically making a choice every day to find those moments of happiness. That’s the easiest way to consider yourself successful.