The Happiness-Success Paradox

I’ll be happy when _________.

The Happiness Success Paradox

“I’ll be happy when” is a backwards way of striving for success. To be successful, you must be happy first.
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Go ahead, fill in the blank. That blank is your definition of “success.”

But here is the paradox: To achieve authentic success, you must be happy first. Happiness leads to success, which leads to more happiness, which leads to…and thus the cycle is born. Round and round you go on a positive cycle that seems to self-contain itself in an impenetrable bubble. The same principle works in effect for negativity and unhappiness. Negativity leads to failure, which leads to more negativity and unhappiness, which…and the self-containing bubble grows bigger and stronger and seemingly unbreakable.

Happy people simply get more “breaks.” Happy people find jobs easier, they find mates easier, and they find help from others easier. All because they made a choice to be happy.

Let’s look at just one typical measure of success…finding a job. If you are hiring someone, which dwarf would you hire? Happy or Grumpy? All things being equal, you will hire the one with the great smile who looks like he actually enjoys life. All things not being equal, you will still probably hire him or her. Happy people get more breaks. Happy people get hired. Happy people get promoted, get raises, and generally advance further, faster in the corporate world. It is an undeniable fact. You want career success? Choose to be happy.

“I’ll be happy when” is a backwards way of striving for success. I believe in goals and I believe that feeling unsettled or even discontent until a goal is reached is healthy and effective, but you also must realize that happiness is a means to success.

Today you must choose to be happier; to smile, laugh, and carry yourself in a manner that exudes enthusiasm and joy. It is the first step on your road to success. (But here is the cool thing…if you choose to be happy now, your road TO success will no longer have a destination or an end point. Rather, the road itself will be the fun part. The joy will be in the journey.)

Here are five practical ways to start being happier today:

  1. Smile. Smile at yourself first thing in the morning. Smile at yourself in every mirror that you can. Smile at yourself in the car window reflection, rear view mirror, and back of your cereal spoon. This isn’t some delusional self-esteem trick. I’m not a big believer in self-esteem as defined in most bookstore self-help sections. This is mostly about training your muscles, including your brain, to smile…a lot. Then take it to the streets…literally. Smile at every single person you meet. Take it to the doctor’s office, to the mechanic, and even to the checkout line at Wal-Mart (gasp!).
  2. Laugh. Laugh at yourself. Laugh at others (OK, not in a cruel way, but come on, watching someone trip and innocently fall and not hurt themselves is funny). Laugh at memories. Listen to comedy. At least five times per day, laugh one of those hearty laughs that leaves you in pain. That’s right, FIVE times a day. Talk to a friend who makes you laugh, share a story, listen to a story, find anything that will cause you to laugh in this manner. Do it early and do it often.
  3. Give. Give of your time, your money, your talent. I am suggesting, just as Jesus did, that it is perfectly acceptable to give with the expectation of it making you happier. Not all giving has to be sacrificial and hard. So, find someone to mentor. Find a cause. Find someone to help and something to do for them…and do it.
  4. Think. Think of things for which you can (and should) be happy. Your family, friends, health, pets, home, electricity, food, the guy who helped you load the freezer in your car last week. Author Tim Sanders talks about starting a gratitude list. Others have said the same thing. Think of recent events and people, general things, memories and even desires. Be grateful even for that which you do not yet have, but strive toward every day. Make a list of reasons to be grateful and happy. Update it daily or weekly.
  5. Choose. It’s simple, choose to be happy. All of the above actions and many others that you could take are choices. Declare that “I am happy” and then choose to live a life that reflects that declaration.

Wow, so look at that. Smile, laugh, give, be grateful, and choose to be happy. Pretty revolutionary stuff, right? (I’m kidding) But are you doing these things consciously and proactively? Are you choosing to be happy and imminate joy from your body to others? Are you using your smile and your laugh, your resources, and your overall happiness to influence others and achieve your goals?

If you are, that is great. I would love to hear your story below in the comments.

If not, start doing these things today. Choose to smile, laugh, give, and be grateful. Choose to be happy. Make a commitment below in the comments to start today.

If you are already proactively choosing happiness, what are some of the things you are doing?

If not, will you make a commitment below to start today?

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  • I choose happiness. For me, it’s about having a forgiving heart, and being thankful. I’m working on seeking God’s will first as well.

    • Forgiveness is a big key here too. Thanks for reminding me of that Todd. I needed it this morning actually :)

  • As a leader, I do what I can to set a positive tone. Be realistic, but be up beat. We set the tones for our organizations.

  • Thanks for this. I was not having a great morning, but now I am going to CHOOSE to have a good day, and I’m smiling right now!

  • Nice job! Happiness IS a choice. I completely agree with that. I also believe that happiness can only grow in a thankful heart. And… being happy does not always equal feeling happy. I am happy about my marriage and family life, but there are times when I’m frustrated, hurt or angry. I am happy at work, but I face challenges that make me feel impatient. Thanks for the inspiration! I have made a choice to be happy today!

    • GO Lily!

      I had to make the same choice…about 7 times already today :)

  • Great post, Matt. Have you watched the documentary, “Happy”. Fascinating. Scientists are now actually studying “happiness” internationally, and have concluded results that are astonishing (and synergetic with your thoughts in this post). After studying thousands and thousands of people, all over the world, for decades . . . the data suggests that 50% of happiness (or lack thereof) is genetic, 10% is based on successes and achievement, and the remaining 40% is based solely on “intentional living” or “finding flow in your life”. It’s available on Netflix and highly recommend it.

    • I have not heard of that documentary. Thank you for recommending it. I will definitely check it out.

      Part of me is excited about the new research out there and part of me is saddened. The saddened part says “do we really need scientists to tell us how to be happy?” I mean it’s not like we really didn’t know how. (Did we?)

      Then part of me is excited because every time I hear the research or read comments like the ones from @caroldublin:disqus and @lilykreitinger:disqus it reminds that we need to be inspired and reminded to be happy. So while nothing is revolutionary, it can be a part of an ongoing revolution.

      Thanks again Matthew!

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  • Nice job Matt. For a couple years I have been answering “Marvelous” when someone asks how I’m doing. You should hear the reactions! I tell them as long as I am breathing how can I not be marvelous? I totally think you are right, happiness is a state of mind…

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