What Comes First, Success or Happiness?

One could easily argue that breakthroughs happen because someone chooses a non-conformist thought. 

Non-conformist thoughts challenge accepted ways of doing things, leading to discovery and fresh insights. 

While at Harvard, Shawn Achor started thinking non-conformist thoughts , which led him to research and write The Happiness Advantage in 2010. I am still dumbstruck by some of the insights:

“For untold generations, we have been led to believe that happiness orbited around success. That if we work hard enough, we will be successful, and only if we are successful will we become happy. Success was thought to be the fixed point of the work universe, with happiness revolving around it. Now, thanks to breakthroughs in the burgeoning field of positive psychology, we are learning that the opposite is true. When we are happy—when our mindset and mood are positive—we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful. Happiness is the center, and success revolves around it.”

I read that for the first time 8+ years ago, but I still struggle to believe it. I don’t think I’m the only one. 

Every day we are bombarded with images reinforcing that happiness follows success, so it’s easy to believe this old untruth. 


Times of transition create great opportunities to work on our mindset. Change creates disruption and opens us to new possibilities. 

The end of summer/beginning of fall is a naturally disruptive time. Kids are going back to school. Some are off to college. The rhythm of work naturally changes. 

So now is a good time to reframe your mindset for the fall, which will help you finish the year strong and lead to a better 2023.

In The Happiness Advantage, Shawn outlines a few practical tips that will help you develop a happy mindset that will lead you toward success (The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor,  pages 52-54):

  1. Meditate. Neuroscientists have found that monks who spend years meditating grow their left prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain most responsible for feeling happy.
  2. Find Something to Look Forward To. One study found that people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent. Often, the most enjoyable part of an activity is the anticipation.
  3. Commit Conscious Acts of Kindness. A long line of empirical research, including one study of over 2,000 people, has shown that acts of altruism—giving to friends and strangers alike—decrease stress and strongly contribute to enhanced mental health.
  4. Psychologists have found that people who Watch Less TV are actually more accurate judges of life’s risks and rewards than those who subject themselves to the tales of crime, tragedy, and death that appear night after night on the ten o’clock news.
  5. Exercise. You have probably heard that exercise releases pleasure-inducing chemicals called endorphins.
  6. Spend Money (but Not on Stuff). Contrary to the popular saying, money can buy happiness, but only if used to do things as opposed to simply have things.

Choosing activities that lead to happiness will eventually lead to success. So, start chasing happiness, not success, in the fall of 2022.

Thanks for being a leader worth following,

Brian Rutherford


Brian Rutherford

Brian Rutherford is Director of Content and Product Strategy for Leadercast. Brian has been telling stories professionally for twenty-five years. Stories that inspire people to see themselves and the world differently. Stories that challenge people to take meaningful action in the world.

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