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Does Success lead to Happiness or does Happiness lead to Success?

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

Since childhood, we are taught that to be happy we need to set goals and achieve them. We should do well at school or we must bag a good job. Think to yourself about what your last important goal was. Did it make you happy? Did the feeling last? Or did it peter out and then you went onto your next goal?

Our experience tells us that long-lasting happiness is not dependent on success. Success only brings you momentary euphoria. 

There has been a paradigm shift in our understanding of what determines happiness. Similar to what has happened in the field of nutrition, the field of positive psychology is shifting our understanding of what it means to be happy. 

For decades, the western world propagated the traditional food pyramid with listed grains as the bedrock of nutrition with fat being the smallest part of the top. This was considered the gold standard of a balanced diet. However, today we see that this model of nutrition is flawed. Modern findings show problems with grains, not fruits and vegetables, which are also carbohydrates. Google image the food pyramid. Turn it upside down and that’s a healthy diet!

Traditionally, people have believed that success or achievement leads to happiness. However, the latest research on happiness shows us that it is quite the opposite.  Martin Seligman, among other researchers in the field of positive psychology, has found that happiness is not dependent on achievement. Rather research shows that the likelihood of being successful is dependent on one’s overall happiness. 

If happiness is a precondition to greater achievement, then how can one improve one’s mental wellbeing and be happier?

Seligman explains that we all have certain character strengths. The VIA Institute on Character has been able to identify 24 character strengths that increase happiness and contentment in people. Each one us have these traits in different measures. However, each one of us has five or six traits that are far more dominant than the rest and these he calls “signature strengths”. 

The secret to improving your reserve of happiness and well being is to exercise your signature strengths on a daily basis. Using your signature strengths on a daily basis at work is also the key to success.

Examples of signature strengths could include curiosity, persistence, social intelligence, leadership, humility, humor and playfulness, among others. 

My own signature strengths include social intelligence, curiosity, and courage all of which are called into use on a daily basis in my career as a therapist. Not only am I happy because I feel fulfilled by the use of my signature strengths but it also makes succeeding in my career that much more likely. 

Take a moment to assess your signature strengths and see how you can put them into practice in your daily work and personal life. 


As published on: Thriive Art and Soul

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