The Happiness Formula is Broken

“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” - Albert Schweitzer

Does this sound familiar? Work hard to become successful because being successful will make you happy.   

It’s not as if someone sits you down to say this, but this formula is deeply ingrained in American society. It may be a key driver in our ongoing obsession with busy-ness and impressive number of hours at work.

American happiness researcher and author, Shawn Achor, wants us all to reconsider this deeply flawed formula. In his book, The Happiness Advantage, he explains that the REAL formula turns this traditional one end-to-end. He claims, here in his TED Talk, that you must first be positive and happy, regardless of circumstance, and only then will success become meaningful.

He claims the reason the traditional formula is “scientifically broken and backwards” is because every time you experience success, "your brain changes the goalposts of what success looks like.”

As in, once you get good grades, you must continue to get good or better grades to officially be successful. Get a good job and real success is a better job. And corporate America isn’t helping. If you sell for a living and reach your sales quota, they just reset it higher.

So, do the math. If the traditional formula is success = happiness and “success” is defined as a never ending climb, then happiness is always on the other side of your next achievement. Essentially, you’ll never get there.

As Achor says, “We have pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon.”

So what’s to be done? Essentially, Achor and his company, Goodthink Inc., believe we have to initiate a conscious strategy to flip the formula. This looks like raising the level of positivity in the present, so that our brains can experience, “the happiness advantage.” His research shows that 21 days of applying 5 simple exercises will “restructure” your brain to be more positive and operate optimally.

“Your positive brain performs better than it does when negative, neutral or stressed. Intelligence rises, creativity rises, energy level rises and then so does productivity,” says Achor.

Here’s How to Flip the Formula:

Step One: Write three things you’re grateful for each day. Achor says it helps you learn to scan for the positive. And, of course, gratitude and happiness have many scientific links.

Step Two: Journal about a positive experience each day. Pretty similar to step one, but Achor says this one is about learning to reorient your daily focus to what goes right.

Step Three: Exercise. We all know this one already, but can we ever say it enough? Exercise not only reduces stress, but also makes us more productive.

Step Four: Meditation. It counteracts what Achor calls, “cultural ADHD.” In fact, the happiest man in the world recommends it. It seems there are never ending reasons to dare to be aware.  

Step Five: Engage in one random act of kindness per day. Generosity makes the world a better place, it’s true. But it also is proven to make YOUR world a better place. Essentially, altruism can be selfish, considering it is proven to boost happiness.

And, as Maya Angelou said, real success is defined by positivity. “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.”




Rocky Lewis
Rocky Lewis

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