Happiness and Career Success

It is obviously true that success will bring happiness, any kind of success will. However, is the reverse true – will happiness bring success? There is lots of research available that suggest that happiness indeed brings success. Here are a few references:

  1. Happiness brings success, not the other way round‘ (the paper) – Scientists reviewed 225 studies involving 275,000 people and found that chronically happy people are in general more successful in their personal and professional lives. Happy people are more likely than their less happy peers to have fulfilling marriages and relationships, high incomes, superior work performance, community involvement, robust health and even a long life.
  2. Happiness leads to Career Success‘ talks about the book (The Happiness Advantage) from Shawn Achor that suggest that when we are happy our brain works better and we end up working harder which then leads to success.
  3. People who are unhappy in life are unlikely to find satisfaction at work
  4. Wall Street Journal (‘Is Happiness Overrated’) distinguishes between ‘hedonic well-being’ (immediate pleasure) and ‘eudemonic well-being’ (long term sense of fulfillment) and suggests that latter type of happiness brings the benefits of happiness (health and longevity).
  5. Happiness Lengthens life‘ suggests that ‘Happiness does not heal, but happiness protects against falling ill. As a result, happy people live longer. The size of the effect on longevity is comparable to that of smoking or not’.

If this is true, why have I found so many unhappy people at workplace? 

Over last few years, I have been trying to practice an approach to career management for myself which focuses on happiness as a leading as well as trailing indicator of career success. I am very excited to report that this works very well. Anyone who has been around me for last 2-3 years can vouch for the fact that I have a very successful career and I can attribute a large part of this success to my focus on happiness.

This post is about sharing my learning and process and why it makes sense for everyone to adopt this approach.

Two key insights

  1. If our happiness is attached to something we don’t control, it is easy for others to affect our happiness level and we end up being unhappy even if we don’t want to. In my opinion, this is one of the biggest reasons why we have so many unhappy people at workplace.
  2. It is possible to figure out ways to attach our happiness to things that we control, thereby controlling our happiness. I have tried to do it for myself, and it is possible for everyone to do so.

Two key lists

  1. Happiness + Control – Things at workplace which give me happiness (or unhappiness) and which I can control:
    1. Working on things that are aligned to my strengths (so I have confidence I will do well and I usually do)
    2. Working on things that are aligned to my interests (so I love doing them)
    3. Learning new things about work, about people, about everything there is to learn at a workplace (so that I am ready for being CEO of my own company someday)
    4. Working more with people I respect and like
  2. Happiness – Control – Things at workplace which can give me happiness (or unhappiness) but which I can’t control (so I try to avoid getting attached to them – it is hard, but possible):
    1. Salary and promotions, better performance review
    2. Motivation and Recognition
    3. Great managers and leaders around and above me
    4. Team I work in

My Process

Whenever I feel unhappy or frustrated at work, I check to see if I am missing one or more of the above. Most of the time, I am able to discover some gaps, and then I rethink what I am doing (what I call ‘rebooting my system’). This usually leads to a detailed 1-1 with my manager with thoughts on how I want to reorganize my priorities and focus areas. Sometimes this has resulted in change in my role and discipline, most other times it has resulted in renewed sync between me and my manager about what is important for me and the organization. In every single instance, it has helped me regain my happiness, so it works.

The devil lies in the details; however the overall process is simple. And I want to assure everyone that rewards are well-worth the effort.

5 comments

  1. Good one and well articulated!! I really think everyone (esp. Software engineers) should spare some time from their busy life’s and think about this….!

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