Which Comes First: Success or Happiness?

Kim Martin
3 min readDec 8, 2022

I am a huge fan of TED Talks, and I watched a particularly funny and compelling one last week called Happy Secret to Better Work by Shawn Achor. Achor is an author and Positive Psychology researcher. If you have the time, I encourage you to watch it, but regardless, I’ll share the highlights here, including Achor’s data.

People assume that our external world and everything that happens to us determines our happiness levels, i.e., good things happen to us, and this makes us happy, or the reverse. In reality, the good things that happen to us, or our markers of success that we accomplish, only account for 10% of our happiness. The other 90% of our happiness is determined by the way our brains process the world. How we view the world shapes our reality, whether with a positive or negative mindset. Changing our perception is the first step towards changing our happiness level, leading to improvement in all areas of our lives, such as education, relationships, and career. To sum up, when you’re happy and positive, you attract and can deeply internalize success.

On the career front, only 25% of job success is predicted by IQ. The remaining 75% is predicted by optimism, social support, and the ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat. Research shows our enthusiasm and cheerfulness affect our career success substantially more than our intellect. And on the stress front, consider looking at my recent blog Stress Can Be Good For You, which discusses how reframing how we summit obstacles and stressors can lead to a better outcome.

The traditional formula for success is working harder = more success, followed by increased happiness. Ironically, the brain works in the opposite order. Raise positivity in the present and experience a happiness advantage. When we harness a positive mindset, we display heightened intelligence and creativity, plus our energy rises. The brain is 31% more productive when positive.

How can you train your brain to become more positive? According to Achor, for 21 days straight, practice the following 5 exercises every day:

  • Identify 3 things you are grateful for
  • Journal about a positive experience
  • Exercise to release stress
  • Meditate to increase focus
  • Practice conscious acts of kindness by doing things for others, or writing thank-you notes

What are you waiting for? Try it out! As we’re looking ahead to a new year, it is a perfect opportunity to reflect on ourselves and our goals. Why not include a commitment to positivity in your New Year’s Resolutions?

I hope that you’ll eventually watch this video. He’s a great speaker, and this TED talk has the potential to be a game changer for your career and life.

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Kim Martin

A thought leader in the areas of executive leadership, change management, and women in the C-suite.