Think Success Will Lead To Happiness? Think Again

We have all fallen into the death trap of deferred happiness or as I like to call it, extreme delayed-gratification. Here’s what it sounds like, “If I can just get good grades, I’ll be happy. If I just lose five pounds, I’ll be happy. If I just achieve the next goal, I’ll be happy.” We’ve all been taught success first, happiness second. I was definitely taught that. But, what if it’s the opposite? What if it’s happiness first and success second?

A 2013 Gallup study found that 87% of workers worldwide are “emotionally disconnected from their workplaces and less likely to be productive.”1 CBS reports that only 45% of Americans are satisfied with their work.2 On top of that, the mean onset age of depression was 29.5 years old 50 years ago. Today, it is almost half of that at 14.5 years old.3 In 2011, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported that antidepressant use in the United States has increased nearly 400% in the last 20 years.4 In 2013, they reported that the suicide rate among Americans 35–64 years old increased 28% between 1999 and 2010.5 Law students suffer from 4x more depression than when they started school.6 And once they graduate, lawyers are 3x more likely to suffer from major depressive disorder than the rest of the employed population.7

Science for years has studied disease. But lately, a new branch of psychology, called positive psychology, has sought out to study the best, the outliers. Classical psychology seeks out to eliminate depression and anxiety by diminishing the bad. This has brought us to average. But who wants to be average?  Don’t we all want to be extraordinary and world-class? Positive psychologists come to the rescue by taking us from average to happy!

3 Reasons Why You Must Strive For Happiness First

1. Happiness Improves Intelligence, Creativity and Performance

Our brains are hardwired to perform better when they are in a positive state than when they are in a negative one. When we are happy, we are smarter, more motivated, and thus more successful.

Doctors who were put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis were three times more intelligent and creative than doctors in a neutral state. They made accurate diagnoses 19% faster too! They were primed to be happy with, guess what, candy! And they didn’t even get to eat the candy, to ensure that heightened blood sugar levels didn’t affect the results.8

In another study, students who were primed to feel happy before taking math tests far outperform their peers.8 Individuals who are primed to feel either amusement or contentment can think of a larger and wider array of thoughts and ideas than individuals who have been primed to feel either anxiety or anger.13 In a study with children, those primed to be happy significantly outperformed others, completing tasks both quicker and with fewer errors.15 Additionally, students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers.16 To top it off, happy CEOs were more likely to have employees who report being happy, and who describe their workplace as a climate conducive to performance.20

Bestselling author, Gretchen Rubin says, “Happy people generally are more forgiving, helpful, charitable, have better self-control, and are more tolerant of frustration than unhappy people… [They] also make more effective leaders. They’re viewed as more assertive, self-confident, friendly, warmer, and even more physically attractive. A study showed that students who were happy as college freshmen were earning more money in their mid-thirties—without any wealth advantage to start…[Happy people] outperform the less happy. [They]…work more hours each week—and they work more in their free time, too. They tend to be more cooperative, less self-centered, and more willing to help other people…[T]hen because they’ve helped others, others tend to help them. Also, they work better with others, because people prefer to be around happier people.”

2.Happiness Makes You Richer (Not the vice-versa!)

Happiness is the precursor to success, not the result. Success results from happiness, not the other way around. Happiness causes success and achievement. It leads to success. Instead of “Work hard, play hard,” science shows it’s “Play Hard, Work Hard.” In other words, positive brains have an advantage, an edge.

As always let’s look at the studies! A study found that happier college freshmen had higher incomes 19 years later, regardless of their initial level of wealth.8 Another study found that optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56%! Insurance agents with more optimistic styles sold 37% more insurance and the most optimistic agents sold fully 88% more!8 Lastly, those who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were more neutral or negative.17

3.Happiness Improves Health

These are even more amazing! Nuns whose journal entries had more overtly joyful content lived nearly ten years longer!9 In another study, researchers gave subjects a survey designed to measure levels of happiness—then injected them with a strain of the cold virus. A week later, the individuals who were happier before the start of the study had fought off the virus much better than the less happy individuals.10 Happy employees take 66% less sick days11, and unhappy employees stay home 1.25 days more per month than the average employee.12 Those who are primed with positive feelings experienced a faster recovery from stress and its physical effects than those who weren’t primed.18 Additionally, optimists cope better in high-stress situations and are better able to maintain high levels of well-being during times of hardship.19 Furthermore, those put in a negative mood did not process all the images in pictures—missing substantial parts of the background—while those in a good mood saw everything. To top it off, eye-tracking experiments have shown that positive emotions actually expand our peripheral line of vision!14


All of this shows us that happiness has an evolutionary purpose, that, as stated above, happiness is an edge! Happiness can improve our physical health, which in turn helps us work faster and longer and therefore makes us much more likely to succeed. It helps build up more intellectual, social, and physical resources. It provides an antidote to physical stress and anxiety. It dials up the learning centers of our brains to higher levels. It helps us organize new information, keep that information in the brain longer, and retrieve it faster later on. And it enables us to think quicker, more creatively, more logically, become more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving and invent new ways of doing things. We even see more of what’s around us when we’re happy!

Business success hinges on being able to find creative and novel solutions to problems and cultivating happiness is a game-changing solution. Companies and leaders who take measures to cultivate a happy workplace will not only have more productive and efficient workers, they will also have less absences and lower healthcare expenditures.

Those who wait for work to bring happiness put themselves at a huge disadvantage, while those who capitalize on positivity at every chance will come out ahead. I’ve organized a list of 16 actions you can take right now to add happiness to your life. And, they are all backed by science! If you’d like them, insert your name and email below and send right over!

To your success, To your happiness,
Nikhil M.

P.S. I forgot to mention, the 16 action-steps teaches how to capitalize on happiness to improve our productivity and performance!


  8. The Happiness Advantage
  9. Authentic Happiness
  10. Cohen, S., Doyle, W.J Turner, R.B., Alper, C.M., & Skoner, D.P (2003). Emotional style and susceptibility to the common cold. Psychosomatic Medicine, 65,652-657
  12. Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index. (2008). As referenced in: Associated Press (June 18,2008. Poll: Unhappy workers take more sick days.
  13. Fredrickson, B.L, & Branigan, C. (2005). Positive emotions broaden the scope of attention and thought-action repertoires. Cognition and Emotion, 19, 313-332.
  14. Gallagher, W. (2009). Rapt. New York: Penguin, at 36.
  15. Master, J.C., Barden R.C., & Ford, M. E. (1979). Affective states, expressive behavior, and learning in children. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 37, 380-90.
  16. Kopelman, S., Rosette, A.S., & Thompson, L. (2006). The three faces of Eve: Strategic displays of positive, negative, and neutral emotions in negotiations. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 99, 81-101
  17. Fredrickson, B. L. (2001). the role of positive emotions in positive psychology: The broaden-and-build theory of positive emotions.American Psychologist, 56, 218-226, at 222.
  19. Lyubomirsky, S., King, L.A., & Diener, E. (2005). The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? Psychological Bulletin, 131, 803-855