For you, which comes first: happiness or success?
My guess is that you have already answered that question several times today. You answer it every time your brain says, "I'll be happy when I find a job." "I'll be happy when I get a promotion." "I'll be happy when my dissertation is finished."
The formula is clear: Work harder, then you'll be successful, then you'll be happier. When I asked some of my Harvard students, their answer was easy: "I'm working my butt off now so I can be happy when ... [fill in the blank with a six figure banking job, make a scientific breakthrough, get into medical school, etc.]."
But here's what these brilliant students often forget: Getting into Harvard was supposed to make them happy. How many of them in high school thought they'd be happy once they got in? Why didn't the success then happiness formula work?
It's hard to find happiness after success if the goalposts of success keep changing.
Now for the good news. Based on the findings in "The Happiness Advantage," If you reverse the order of the formula, you end up with greater happiness and greater success rates. Happiness and advantage, and the precursor to greater success.
Every single relationship, business and educational outcome improves when the brain is positive first. If you cultivate happiness while in the midst of your struggles, work, at school, while unemployed or single, you increase your chances of attaining all the goals you are pursuing, including happiness.
So how can we pursue happiness right now? When I was counseling overwrought Harvard students, one of the first things I would tell them is to stop equating a future success with happiness. Empirically, we know success does not lead to happiness. Is everyone with a job happy? Is every rich person happy?
Then, step one is to stop thinking that finding a job, getting a promotion, etc. is the only thing that can brings happiness. Success does not mean happiness. Check out any celebrity magazine to look for examples to disabuse you of thinking that being beautiful, successful or rich will make you happy.
Second, realize that happiness is a work ethic. Happiness is not a mystery. You have to train your brain to be positive just like you work out your body. We not only need to work happy, we need to work at being happy.