Can Happiness Lead To Success?

Written by lewsauder

February 6, 2012

Lead To Success?

Can Happiness Lead To Success?

I’m an avid reader of business books.  This started back in college, when I read the classic In Search of Excellence by Tom Peters and Robert Waterman.

Since then, I’ve taken the occasional detour through fiction via John Grisham, Dan Brown and the like, but business books are my mainstay.  I recently read a couple of books that had an interestingly common theme on what will lead to success.  Unless it was subconscious the similarity was not an intentional act.

What can lead to success?

The first book of the triad was Lynchpin by Seth Godin – In Lynchpin, Godin opines that “Everyone’s an artist now.”  Seth challenges the reader to become a linchpin; to make the leap; to become artists. He defines becoming an artist as doing “emotional work”.

“Artists possess the vision, faith, courage, integrity, and commitment needed to create — in collaboration with others — a post-commercial world that feeds us, enriches us, and gives us the stability we’ve been seeking for so long.”

Godin is effectively instructing us to find what we are passionate about and do it for a living.  Once we commit to it, we’ll be more productive and happier.

The second book wasTheHappiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That FuelSuccess and Performance at Work, by Shawn Anchor.  Now I must admit that my first impression of this book was that it would be a lot of pop-culture-type positive thinking that boiled down to keeping a smile on your face for success.  In fact, if this book hadn’t been given to me for free, I probably wouldn’t have read it.

But in The Happiness Advantage, Anchor applies some hard science and research to defy the conventional wisdom which holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy.  If we can just find that great job, win that next promotion, lose those five pounds, happiness will follow, right?

But recent discoveries in the field of positive psychology have shown that this formula is actually backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. When we are positive, our brains become more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient, and productive at work.

Anchor goes on to provide actual tactics to give people more positive outlooks on life such as estimating how “fortunate” one would be if they were wounded in a bank robbery and The Zorro Circle: “focusing first on small, manageable goals, and then gradually expanding our circle to achieve progressively bigger ones”

The bottom line is that we are more productive when we are happy and science proves that we have the power over whether or not we are happy.

Finallythe third book was Drive by Daniel Pink. Here, Pink takes a look at how the conventional wisdom concerning carrots, sticks and what motivates us is all wrong. In the early 20th century, when work tasks required monotonous manual labor, monetary incentives worked.

In the modern work world, work tasks require more thought and creativity.  In these cases, financial incentives don’t work.  In reality, we’re more motivated by the ability to grow and develop, to realize our fullest potential.

Pink goes on to contrast the extrinsic, if-then rewards that have been ingrained in our psyches to induce higher productivity, with intrinsic approaches that provoke people to complete tasks with more creativity and long-term productivity.

Pink uses examples such as Google’s 20% Time – where Google employees are encouraged to work on projects of their choosing one full day each week – to explain the power of autonomy, mastery, and purpose in motivating a more creative and intrinsically stimulated work force.

One of the key takeaways from Drive for me, as a manager, was something I’ve know deep inside for a long time.  Let go of control and give your people the autonomy to make decisions regarding what they work on.  They will come up with better ideas and be happier doing their work.  They will in turn help you develop better products and will be more productive doing it.  And if they’re happier, they will more likely become more loyal employees.

But wait, there’s more… 

As I’m kneading the information of these three books in my mind and seeing this common theme, I found myself reading PracticeThis, one of my favorite blogs, written by fellow consultant Alik Levin.  Alik reviewed the book Screw Work, Let’s Play, by John Williams, which discusses how consultants need to have an attitude of fun and creativity in their work to be more productive and fulfilled.

If I had run across this concept in just two of my readings, I don’t think it would give me as much pause.  But having a similar theory come from four different sources makes me wonder; have we finally begun to advance to that final, top triangle on Maslow’s hierarchy?

After more than twenty years of working in jobs with differing variations of command and control management theories that I didn’t approve or believe in, last year I joined a consulting firm that believes in this ‘fulfillment theory’.  It’s a firm that works under the premise that happier, more fulfilled employees are more productive, more loyal and, oh by the way, more profitable.

The secret to success

Mark Twain once said, “The secret of success is to make your vocation your vacation”.  I don’t know when he said that, but he died 102 years ago.  Maybe the business world is finally catching on to his wisdom.

See my related post: The Meaning in your work

What efforts are you taking to make your work life happier and more fulfilling?

If you would like to learn more about working in consulting, get Lew’s book Consulting 101: 101 Tips for Success in Consulting at

As always, I welcome your comments and criticisms.

Lew’s Books at Amazon:

Project Management 101
Consulting 101
The Reluctant Mentor

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