The Pathway to Happiness

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” This familiar phrase from the Declaration of Independence is something that people think they understand but often do not. Even before these words were penned in 1776, human beings have equated success with happiness. While this is true to some extent, the two realities of “happiness” and “success” have differences—at least in how to attain them.

Does success equal happiness—or is it the other way around?

In a recent article that appeared in The Atlantic, author Arthur C. Brooks explains the misunderstanding that most people have in how they view happiness and success. (And Mr. Brooks includes himself as making this mistake). Almost instinctively, people labor at their jobs (to the point of workaholism) with the belief that their tireless efforts will lead to success—and from that success, happiness will be the reward/result. 

Findings about happiness in the workplace

Citing a study conducted by Fortune magazine entitled “100 Best Companies to Work For,” Mr. Brooks pointed out that companies that fostered employee-engagement—where individuals felt respected, acknowledged and had friends at work—appeared at the top of this list. While this may not seem surprising, the satisfaction was not based on achieving success, but the feelings of happiness that these employees felt in working for this type of company.

It’s true: Money doesn’t buy happiness

To further solidify the observation above, the Forbes study noted that pay raises and promotions had only small—if any—contributions to employees’ sense of satisfaction. While some employees who were surveyed enjoyed the money and status from what Mr. Brooks termed “relative success,” this feeling did not go on to become one of “total contentment.” In fact, in some cases, employees felt that to justify the increase in pay and position, they were obligated to devote more time and energy to their jobs and wound up indirectly (and ironically) risking their health, interpersonal relationships, and other factors which equate to—yes, that’s right—happiness.

How happiness develops—for free

How can someone attain happiness? Quite simply, it comes from reversing the priorities noted above, or, as Mr. Brooks states: “…looking not at success’s effects on happiness, but happiness’s effect on success.” In other words, when or if a person is able feel happy within himself or herself, this in turn leads to positive results that manifest themselves in good health, friendships, romance, and income, among other occurrences that make up—right, again—success.

The observations above also point to the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance, which is admittedly easier to intellectualize than it is to practice.

Here is a takeaway from Mr. Brooks that applies to anyone and everyone:

Whether you are an employee or employer, it is a better investment to increase happiness at work and in life, rather than simply trying to increase measures of success.

In summation: Focus on becoming happy. Success—in all its forms—will follow.