We have all bought into the belief that success breeds happiness. We think if only I can get that promotion or certain job title, then I’ll be happy. Maybe it’s a material possession for you. If only I can live in this neighborhood or drive that car, I will have reached a new level of status and success and therefore I will be happy. While obtaining these things from the external world seem to define success especially in our culture, do they really make us happy?

Now I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t pursue the American Dream, which is a set of ideals that our freedom include the opportunity for prosperity and success. After all, the American Dream is rooted in the Declaration of Independence that declares in part the pursuit of happiness is a right for all people. I believe in a society that reward people for hard work and ingenuity. If it weren’t for capitalism, we would not be the most technologically advanced nation in the history of the world.

Author Shawn Achor, CEO of Good Think, Inc. states that 90% of your happiness is not determined by your external world but how your brain processes the world. IQ predicts only 25% of job success. However, your optimism levels, your social support and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of as a threat predicts 75% of job successes. We think if we work harder, endure more stress and earn that promotion, get my dream job, or produce a higher salary, I’ll be successful and then be happy. The flaw in this definition of success is you have to keep moving the goal post each time we reach a new level of success.

What if the title of this blog really is true? What if we were to pursue the sometimes-elusive happiness first by internalizing our choice to be happy? Can you really just choose happiness and joy like it’s some kind of cosmic switch to be turned on or off? 

So how do we find success from our happiness? We have to reverse the formula. The research in Positive Psychology shows we can actually be more successful by putting happiness first. The science is grounded in the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within them, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play (Positive Psychology Center, 2016). Success doesn’t lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.