Success does not make us happy.

As a society, we are extremely focused on creating success, and we often define our happiness in terms of how much success we create. We have become obsessed by the perception that happiness is driven by success:

  • If I can get promotion I will be happy.
  • If I am successful I will be happy.
  • If I can increase the share price of my company by a factor of 12 I will be considered a success
  •  and therefore I will be happy

These are all false premises. Happiness is not driven by success. Our relativisation of success is constant in everything we do: the more successful we become, the more the bar for our definition of success rises, making it harder to succeed.

That’s great for business, but if your happiness hinges on that, you will ultimately be unhappy. It’s the law of big numbers.

The higher the bar, the tougher the challenge, but the happiness level doesn’t increase in proportion.

When I was CEO of TelecityGroup, there was one day when the stock market took a dive and the company’s share price fell sharply (everybody’s share price plummeted that particular day), so I was initially very unhappy. The market had crashed. My spirits followed suit.

But at the very point I was at my most depressed, a raft of investors and analysts were calling me and saying, ‘Mike, chill out. I am not going to be selling today, whatever the share price is at the close of business.’

I realised that if we could finish the day within, say, 3 per cent of where we had started it would in fact have been a relatively good day, ‘relatively’ being the key word. Nothing would have changed except time moving on, and my own perception of what success was.

Our interpretation of success alters all the time. We are never ‘happy’, because at the very moment we achieve our expectation, our expectations shift once more, and the definition of what makes us happy moves out of reach yet again.

It is important to define what makes you, personally, happy, because feeling happy is as much physiological as emotional.

When you are happy, endorphins are released into your body, which in turn make you far more receptive to outside inputs, more alert and more active, and so, by virtue of these endorphins whizzing around your body and your brain, you have a greater chance of achieving more success.

The equation is simple: the happier you are to begin with, the more successful you will become – the complete opposite of the way we are typically taught to view the world.

Extracted from Live, Love, Work, Prosper: A Fresh Approach to Integrating Life and Work by Michael Tobin

Photo by Samuel Zeller