Much as we are often motivated by what we think will bring us happiness, happiness is still seen as something of a trivial side issue; not a bottom line kind of thing at all. There are two major reasons for this as I see it:
- Happiness is the result of doing a whole lot of other things right; if your sole purpose is to increase your happiness, you are likely to focus on short-term, self-absorbed activities that will not, in fact, lead to a happier life overall.
- There are a lot of very important things that need to be taken care of, whether or not they make you happy. A business needs to prosper and grow, kids need to be parented well and a marriage has issues that need to be dealt with. There are survival needs that must be taken care of before any consideration of how you feel about it enters the realm of relevancy.
I want to make the case today that pursuing happiness in the sense that I teach, coach, speak and write about it is actually much more central to these bottom line issues than most people understand.
Let's begin with the survival issues. You have to make a living. First of all, of course, you have to attain the skills that enable you to create the kind of value that people will pay you for, whether those people are an employer or customers. You have to work hard and maintain your focus in order to create and produce anything of value. You need the ability to interact with people so that they can deal with you with some degree of trust and confidence in your abilities.
You can feel happy and be flakey, in which case your happiness won't carry over into success in life.
But many of the habits that make for a happy and satisfying life also support excellent work skills. People who are able to focus, maintain attention and delay gratification are happier, more satisfied and more successful than those who are not. People who are engaged in what they do, matching increasing skill levels to increasing challenges, are happier, more satisfied and more successful. People who are more optimistic are happier and more successful in their business relationships, in general.
As I have shown in "The Physical Case for Happiness," happiness also brings health benefits, particularly with inflammatory issues like heart disease, arthritis and even infectious diseases like the common cold.
Happiness, as I use the term, is not something separate and isolated from other issues of life. Happiness is the context through which all of your most important life issues are nurtured and supported; it is the spirit and strategy with which you engage life. Happiness is an active, problem solving and powerful stance toward life; and it can make a substantial difference in your effectiveness with your most pressing challenges and your most hopeful opportunities.
But it is not some separate thing that you cultivate apart from your daily activities. The skills of happiness are the skills of living well. If you are effective in your life, if you are good at your work, prosperous in your business, a good mate and parent and play a useful role in your community, the chances are you are also practicing many of the skills that lead to a happy life.
You can learn a job related skill or communication tool that can increase your effectiveness at work or at home, and that will likely increase your happiness. You can conversely learn the skills of happiness that I teach, weaving them into your daily life, and you will likely increase your effectiveness with the basic life issues that you deal with every day.
The main point is that, as with so much in life, these factors are interrelated. You can affect your happiness through being effective and mindful in your work and personal life; you can affect your success at work and in your personal life through practicing the skills of happiness.
The beauty of the skills of happiness is that they organize habits across various, seemingly unrelated areas of life into a comprehensible pattern of living well. For example, a person who is successful in business but not so successful in relationships may not see the common practices of empathy, integrity, consistency and purposeful awareness in the two spheres of life, and so they may not practice them with the same consciousness and sense of priority in each. Yet the benefits of doing so are potentially huge.
You can improve your effectiveness in both business and your relationships through practicing those qualities in ways that are appropriate to both. Many of the principles that I write about for your personal happiness are directly applicable to building a happier and more effective culture within your business. (I am also available to present and teach these skills personally to your business. My presentations are effective and immediately useful, and a very effective way to build these qualities as part of your business culture)
There has been a lot of research showing how satisfaction and engagement at work is connected with higher success and productivity. For example, in the Journal of Applied Psychology, Harter (of Gallup) Schmidt and Hayes show that employee satisfaction and engagement have a significant effect on business outcomes.
Engagement is one of the central qualities of a happy life, and the most important thing that management can do for employee satisfaction is to enable employees to do their work well. So this study shows the kind of interaction between happiness skills and practical skills that I've been describing.
But which comes first? Many people assume that people are happier at work because they are more successful; and it would make sense that there is certainly pleasure and satisfaction that comes from doing your work well.
In a study in the Journal of Career Assessment, Boehm and Lyubomirsky review research that shows that "...compared with their less happy peers, happy people earn more money, display superior performance, and perform more helpful acts." But they also show evidence (as do Lyubomirsky, King and Deiner in this study) that employees are successful because they are happier.
My point is that it goes both ways. Building good work habits on the one hand, and awareness and practice of the principles that lead to a genuinely happier, more satisfying life on the other hand, can work together to enhance and strengthen both ends of the spectrum. To focus on pleasure in the moment without including the skills of consciousness, empathy, self-control and engagement is to practice a self-absorbed, narcissistic lifestyle – which will bring you misery, not happiness.
There is no contradiction between happiness and success; they bind together through a life lived with integrity, joy, love, and engagement. Work hard and well, learn and practice the skills of genuine happiness, and build for yourself a happy and successful life.
Joel F. Wade, Ph.D. is a Life Coach who works with people around the world via phone and e-mail. He can be reached for life coaching service at firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website, www.drjoelwade.com. He is the author of Mastering Happiness and A Pocket Guide to Mastering Happiness.
Joel Wade has spoken a number of times at my organization's conferences, and our attendees (and I!) look forward to his talks. He has a gift for bringing abstract principles to bear on the everyday reality of personal life, and for capturing the emotional nuances of inner life in words that resonate. He motivates people not only to understand the ideas but to apply them in the pursuit of their happiness. His speaking style is perfectly adapted to his subject: He is warm and benevolent, as if speaking one-on-one with every person in the audience; and encourages people to raise questions and share experiences. I would recommend him enthusiastically to any group.
− David Kelley, Founder and Executive Director, Atlas Society