Working Harder vs. Working Happier: What Research Tells Us about Success
Have you ever had the experience of being so deeply immersed in a project that you lost track of time? Research shows that those are the times when we’re happiest- when we’re engaging our natural skills and abilities. As a business coach with over thirty years of experience, I’ve seen it in action, over and over again: people succeed when they put themselves in a position to truly use their natural skills and abilities.
Happiness leads to success. When I talk about this—and the program I’ve developed with my coaching partner, called Your Talent Advantage—it seems clear that everyone in the audience knows exactly what I’m talking about, because the result is almost universally positive. People like the idea of developing their natural skills and talents, and they are familiar (usually from early childhood) with the meaning and satisfaction that comes from engaging in activities that are supported by their innate Perceptual Style. While this “sounds good” to almost everyone, most people don’t believe that it’s possible to succeed in business by focusing on their natural skills and abilities.
Talking to people after a presentation, I have heard many variations on the same theme: “Sounds great, but I have a business to run and don’t have time to be distracted,” or “Sounds like a lot of hard work,” or “You can’t just focus on the positive.”
Recently, though, I discovered an answer to why people can be so negative about being positive! Research in positive psychology shows that many people have a formula for happiness set up in their heads that goes like this: “If I work harder, I will be more successful. If I am more successful, then I will be happy.”
Telling someone who has this formula in his head to work on those skills and talents that are “easy” rather than “hard” is the same as telling him to give up on success and happiness and settle for what they have.
Research, however, has shown that this formula doesn’t work. Hard work may lead to some success, but success doesn’t lead to happiness. The truth is 180 degrees different: Happiness leads to real success. When people are happy and focused on the positive aspects of themselves and the world, their brains perform 31 percent better than if they are negative, neutral, or stressed. They are more intelligent, more creative, and have more energy. In fact, when people are happy, their performance improves on every single measure of business outcome.
According to Shawn Achor, founder and CEO of Good Think, Inc., “If we study what is merely average, we will remain average.” What we focus on and study creates our reality. If you focus on discovering and developing your weaknesses, your will have a never-ending list of acquired skills that you must work hard to develop. While you may become proficient in those skills over time, you will also be physically, emotionally, and psychologically stressed. And we now know how much less efficient our brains are when we are stressed!
If you want to be truly successful, first you must be happy. To be happy, you must focus on what you genuinely enjoy doing, and focus on developing what you already do well. Almost anyone who has mastered any discipline will attest to the truth of this.
So, to those who question the investment in their own talents and abilities, I say: If you want to be happy and successful, you must focus on your natural gifts and talents. It’s not a lot of hard work, it’s a lot of easy work. What you are doing now is hard work!
(Interested in learning more about the power of positive psychology? Check out Shawn Achor’s TED talk here: http://www.ted.com/talks/shawn_achor_the_happy_secret_to_better_work.html)