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  • Writer's picture Lauren Malach

What Comes First: Happiness Or Career Success? (Read This And Find Out)

Updated: Jun 13, 2019

Last month I reflected on failure.

This month I’m excited to explore the idea of success and ask the question: what does success mean to you?

I recently led a corporate workshop on the connection between happiness and career success.

The workshop was based on these questions:

How does happiness fit into your idea of success?

Is it the pathway to success or the outcome?

If happiness is important to you, how consciously are you trying to enhance it in your life and work?

In Western culture we have adopted the idea that success leads to happiness. Graduate from a good university, get a ("practical") degree, find a solid career path, buy a condo or house, find a partner, get a promotion, make more money, lose a few pounds and then’ll be happy.

Photo by Chris Barbalis on Unsplash

But many researchers suggest this equation is not only broken, it’s backwards. Philosophers and theologians like Albert Schweitzer have long argued that “success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success.”

In a recent publication in the Journal of Career Assessment, Dr. Sonya Lyubomirsky, a leading researcher in Positive Psychology, and her colleagues, sought out to explore this chicken and egg conundrum. Does success lead to happiness or does happiness lead to success?

Dr. Lyubormirsky and her colleagues hypothesized that happiness precedes success. They reviewed hundreds of studies, including those that followed subjects over many years. The researchers concluded that it's highly likely (strong words for scientists) that in most professions and by most measures happier people are more successful than their less happy peers.

The results have interesting implications for us as individuals, employees, managers and leaders. Here are some of the findings.

Happier people:

- perceive themselves as having greater autonomy in the workplace, as autonomy is also positively related to job satisfaction.

(Iverson, Olekalns, & Erwin, 1998; Van Katwyk, Fox, Spector, & Kelloway, 2000) (Crocco & Costigan, 2007)

- are more likely to demonstrate pro-sociality within the workplace.

(Borman, Penner, Allen, & Moto- widlo, 2001; Crede ́, Chernyshenko, Stark, Dalal, & Bashshur, 2007; Dalal, Baysinger, Brummel, & Lebreton, 2012; Fisher, 2002; George, 1991; Ilies, Scott, & Judge, 2006; Johnson, 2008; Lee & Allen, 2002; Miles, Borman, Spector, & Fox, 2002; Williams & Shiaw, 1999)

- receive more favorable supervisor evaluations, higher income, and better social support than less happy employees.

(George, 1995) (Iverson et al., 1998) (Pinquart & Sorensen, 2000)

- are more invested and involved in their jobs—that is, they are high in work engagement.

(George, 1995; Langelaan, Bakker, van Doornen, & Schaufeli, 2006) (Bakker & Demerouti, 2008)

- set higher goals for themselves (Baron, 1990; Hom & Arbuckle, 1988), persevere at challenging tasks longer (Sarason et al., 1986), judge themselves more favorably (Sarason et al., 1986), evaluate their performance as stronger (Barsade, 2002; J. Wright & Mischel, 1982), and are more optimistic that they will succeed (Brown, 1984; J. Wright & Mischel, 1982).

By most measures of workplace success, happier people out perform their less happy peers.

So here's what is on my mind...

  • If happiness leads to success, how much are we investing into the thoughts and behaviors that lead to our well-being and the well-being of our employees?

  • As leaders and managers what are we doing to explore the idea of happiness in ourselves and in our employees?

  • What would it look like to invest in our happiness as necessary to our success?

  • What would it look like to set aside time each week to pursue our well-being goals in addition to our material goals?

If you are interested in re-framing your idea of success or how you prioritize happiness in your life, reach out to me for coaching or corporate workshops on the topic.

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