As a society, we’re achieving more yet feeling worse. Even when well paid, we’re dissatisfied. Most of us accomplish plenty but lack feelings of well-being.
While every metric of society is improving worldwide, our happiness levels are declining-and the more we have and achieve, the less successful we feel. This phenomenon is known as the “progress paradox.”
In a worldwide survey of happiness, the United States ranked a dismal 23rd. Between 1972 and 2004, Americans’ real buying power doubled, yet our feelings of financial security dropped by 34%. The number of people who felt very happy with their lives dropped by 31%. And this was reported before the financial crisis and recession of 2008.
Depression rates are up (and affecting younger children), stress levels are high, and financial insecurity is common. People everywhere report feeling isolated and disconnected from one another. We crave meaning and fulfillment in our work and family life.
The latest psychological research challenges some of our most commonly held beliefs about satisfaction and well-being:
- While a high IQ can help you at work, only 25% of one’s professional success is predicted by it.
- Your environment can affect your level of happiness, but not to the extent you may think.
- Hard work helps you achieve success, but it won’t necessarily pay off in feelings of satisfaction and well-being.
3 Things We Need for Success
What make us feel good about ourselves:
- The ability to manage energy and stress in positive ways
- A strong social support network
- Most importantly, believing that what we do matters
Research also demonstrates that if we feel positive while performing a task, we can dramatically increase our level of success. Indeed, happiness is a precursor to success – not the result.
Unfortunately, our expectations are often reversed, which begs the question: How do we create feelings of happiness before we are successful?
The Psychology of Success
Positive psychologists seek to find and nurture genius and talent and to make normal life more fulfilling, not simply to treat mental illness. By scientifically studying how things go right in individuals and societies, we can unlock the mysteries of peak performance to gain more satisfaction from our work and lives.
Here’s what many people believe about work:
If I work hard, I’ll be smarter.
If I’m smarter, people will notice and I’ll get promoted.
With more responsibility, I’ll be even more successful.
If I’m more successful, I’ll be happy.
But it doesn’t work this way.
Instead, our brain chemistry kicks into gear when triggered by a stimulus. Perhaps we’re working on a challenge that particularly intrigues us. We’re in a positive mood. Biochemically, we feel pleasure when the neurotransmitter dopamine is released into the brain. As a result:
- The brain turns on its learning centers.
- We are more open to exploring new ideas.
- We build new solutions.
If we feel positive while performing a task, we dramatically increase our levels of intelligence, creativity and productivity, while lowering levels of negativity, boredom, proneness to errors and disengagement.
Thus, positive feelings prime the pump for success.
Priming the Positivity Pump
To prime yourself for success, start a task in a positive mood. One way to accomplish this is to engage in something pleasurable first – even if it’s just fantasizing or reading something funny. Exercise is known to help.
Try smiling at someone. The evidence is clear: Smiling produces positive feelings in both giver and recipient. Our brains’ mirror neurons are particularly responsive to smiles, not to mention other facial emotions (anger, disapproval or worry). It’s almost impossible to smile at someone and not get a smile in return – but remember that sincerity is required.
If you’re a leader or manager charged with getting things done, a smile helps ensure better results and cooperation – something most parents already understand. We know emotions are contagious, yet how many of us transmit negativity and stress by forgetting to smile at work?
Make a conscious effort to create a positive work environment by smiling more often and being positive instead of stressed out. The more positive the mood, the better people work – and this includes you.
It may seem incongruous to “pretend” to be happy and successful before you set out for your day’s tasks. But the evidence is clear: Tapping into whatever positive mood you may have within you will set you up for more creativity, happiness and success.