Success Makes Happiness or Happiness Makes Success?

I consider myself to be a pretty funny guy, and enjoy almost all kinds of humor.  I really enjoy when people interject humor into serious or semi-serious topics.  Shawn Achor uses humor in his TED talk, The Happy Secret to Better Work.  The basis of his talk reflects on the question: Does success make happiness or does happiness make success?  For many years, we have been taught that if you are successful, you will be happy.  But Achor’s argument is that this concept is actually reversed: if you are happy, you have a better chance of being successful.

According to Achor, only 25% of success is based on IQ.  The other 75%, which he calls “The Silent 75%”, “are predicted based on your optimism levels, your social support, and the ability to see stress as a challenge rather than a threat.”  That may be the point that I found the most interesting in the TED talk.  I have always looked at stress as a threat.  I’m assuming that is probably why I get stressed out so easily.

If I can change my way of thinking, and think of stress as a challenge to overcome instead, I can kill two birds with one stone.  First, I eliminate the threat of stress.  This makes me think clearer, have better relationships, and allows me the opportunity to focus on other things.  Secondly, it makes me happier, which according to Achor, gives me more potential to be successful.  Which, in life, isn’t being successful what it’s all about?  Whether that means in your professional life, your personal life, spiritually, or even at a hobby, don’t we all just want to be successful at the end of the day?

Another thing Achor talked about was how we, as a society, tend to outline the negative things rather than focus on the positive. He was talking to a boarding school in New England about happiness and they had stated that they were already teaching happiness, but were also including a wellness week.  During the week they covered adolescent depression, school violence/bullying, eating disorders, illicit drug use, and they were trying to decide between risky sex/happiness for the last topic.  He told them that they weren’t having a wellness week, they were having a sickness week; “The absence of sickness is not wellness.”  I had never really thought about it like that, but I think he’s absolutely right.

In our society, the underlying theme is that if you work harder, you will be more successful.  If you are more successful, you will be happier.  Every time you have a success, you just put the bar higher for your next success, and this happens over and over again.  If this is true, how can you ever really be happy?  Achor says you won’t be…and I agree.

Watching this video (several times I might add) has really driven home a point that I have been dwelling on for almost a year.  At this time last year, I was what many would call successful.  But truthfully, I wasn’t really happy.  I am now working towards a career goal which I truly think will make me happy.  So if I can be both happy and successful, in that order, I will choose that any day over being “successful” and unhappy.

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