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Why achieving success won't make you happy

Why achieving success won't make you happy

How else can we become more resilient and happier, so leading to greater success? In this article, Tianne Croshaw argues that if you can train yourself to live in the moment rather than focussing on the negatives of your past or worrying about your future, then you would feel less anxious and be happier.

Sophie – a beautiful, articulate and outwardly successful-looking woman – sat down in my clinic recently and asked, ‘What’s wrong with me? Why can’t I feel happy?’ She had the material wealth she had sought all her life and had lived by the belief that external material ‘things’ were what brought her the feeling of being successful and the state of joy and wellbeing. The truth is evident from the deluge of reality TV shows and documentaries of the rich and famous…money, cars, or having the best figure or abs does not create true happiness. The fights, the tears and the insecurities are all pointers to the fact that happiness must come from somewhere else.

With the challenge of the recession and the reports of terrorism and war invading into our sitting rooms, we could be forgiven for thinking, ‘What is there to be happy about?’ However, if you could see the profoundly positive effect that mastering this emotion can have on your life, particularly during times of hardship or challenge, then you might take it very seriously indeed. In fact, becoming the master of your emotions is a critical part of becoming more resilient. When you do so, you will start to really see the possibilities available to you for success, despite your current situation.

So, if you are searching for success, the first thing to do is to identify what the true definition of success looks like to you.
Is it being in a supportive, loving, relationship; achieving a certain career goal; being a great parent; or having financial security? It might be related to your sport, your fitness, body shape and health. Is it that you want to travel, socialise or have time to contribute to others? Success means different things to different people; yet happiness is a common, global feeling that every culture recognises though a smile, a laugh or by observing a person’s physiology. 

While watching Comic Relief last year, I couldn’t help but feel a moment of happiness during one video tape with Rob Brydon – the Welsh comedian. He was holding a beautiful little African girl who, sadly, had malaria. Whilst Rob shared her plight with the viewers, the toddler, despite not understanding a single word he was saying laughed and giggled all the way through the VT. Rob connected to that little girl in that moment and, despite all the pain and hardship around them both, was living in the moment as she was. The little girl won’t know what an incredible message she was sharing with us viewers.

If you can train yourself to live in the moment rather than focussing on the negatives of your past or worrying about your future, then you would feel less anxious and be happier. How else can we become more resilient and happier, so leading to greater success?

Many of the early theories about resilience stressed the roles of genetics. Now, more and more evidence has shown that resilience can be learned. 

Diane Couta, a senior executive editor for the Harvard Business Review, observed from her research that resilient people possess three characteristics:

  • a staunch acceptance of reality
  • a deep belief, with strongly held values, that life is meaningful
  • an uncanny ability to improvise

She goes on to explain, ‘A common belief about resilience is that it stems from an optimistic nature. This is true of course so long as optimism doesn’t distort your sense of reality. In extremely adverse situations, rose-coloured thinking can actually spell disaster.’ In her article, Diane mentions Jim Collins, author of Good to Great, whose book is about how companies can transform themselves and move away from mediocrity. ‘Collins had been wrongly assuming that resilient organisations were filled with optimistic people. He ran this idea past Admiral Jim Stockdale, who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Vietcong for eight years.  Collins recalls: ‘I asked Stockdale: “Who didn’t make it out of the camps?” And he said, “Oh, that’s easy. It was the optimists. They were the ones who said we were going to be out by Christmas. And then they said we’d be out by Easter and then out by Fourth of July and out by Thanksgiving, and then it was Christmas again.”

Then Stockdale turned to me and said, “You know, I think they died of broken hearts.”’ So optimism mixed with realism is a very resilient and potentially powerful combination for achieving success. I work with companies and organisations, helping them improve their management’s resilient thinking and see what a difference a positive attitude in management can make to an organisation. 
Shawn Anchor, the author of The Happiness Advantage, highly recommends the habit of keeping a daily Gratitude Journal. This is where you look back on your day and write down the particular things you can be grateful for. He looks at the science behind this and shares the following benefits:

  • a means of moving from task-based activities to meaning-based activities one of the three characteristics of resilient people mentioned earlier
  • a conduit for gaining a more positive perspective on life
  • a source for boosting your mood and work performance

Sophie committed to keeping a Gratitude Journal for 21 days and the person I saw as she sat down in front of me three weeks later was poles apart from the one I had seen previously. She explained how her life had transformed. Instead of running on the hamster wheel of work – charging from one task to another and always focussed in the future – she had taught herself to live more in the now and to appreciate the smallest things. She had attracted a partner who was attracted to her for the person she had become on the inside.
I invite you to take up my 21-day Journal Challenge and just see the difference it can make. I would be very happy to hear how you get on.

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