Happiness Leads to Success?

Once upon a time, (circa 1973-74), I spent two summers working at the Homestead Works of United States Steel as a laborer and helper. Although we were only temporary help, we were hired on the same as permanent workers with the same schedules, pay, benefits, and responsibilities. My initial attitude was to put in my time there mindlessly and mentally separate it as only “working” which is distinct from “living life.” Living involved meaning, success, or fun, while working was wasted or dead time.
By the end of a few weeks as a steelworker, I had learned so much from my co-workers. Their work was more than a job. I can now frame it as an identity involving pride of craftsmanship, of being the bread-winner for a family, and as contributing for the benefit of the community and the common good. A respected lead-person, Cyclone, explained it to me this way: “What we do matters because our steel is the foundation of bridges, battleships, skyscrapers, automobiles, and manufacturing plants. None of this happens without us at the front end.” One of my take-aways is that how much of what we do mattering is dependent on our attitude. For a young man, part of me was forged alongside the steel amidst the heat, noise, and grit of the Homestead Works of United States Steel.

In over 40 years as a lawyer, I relied upon the lessons learned about the importance of making your best efforts at your own job or task-at-hand. I lament the fact that so many lawyers are unhappy in their chosen profession or feel trapped by meaningless work. My goal is to help improve the daily lot of lawyers so we can all “whistle while we work.” To me that is a good definition of success.

The past 3 years I have researched and studied the relationship between happiness and success while at work. There is an overwhelming body of evidence that there is more than a correlation, but a cause-effect cycle with some contending that the happiness comes first. See the summary of the research study below.

Rather than attempting to answer the age-old riddle of what came first, the chicken or the egg, energy is best spent on promoting practices and habits which enhance job satisfaction and meaningful work. Daily tasks, especially for professionals like lawyers, are going to be diverse and vary in the level of challenge to cognitive and problem solving abilities. Ultimately, there is a larger goal or objective being advanced and the smaller, and often routine or boring functions, are necessary links in the chain. One approach is to treat these in a stoical way . . . complete the chore without fuss. This was a lesson I learned not in law school, but from the steelworkers of Western Pennsylvania.

The Study

The follow contains excerpts from S. Lyubomirsky, L. King & E. Diener, The benefits of frequent positive affect: Does happiness lead to success? 131 Psychological Bulletin 803-855 (2005). (View Study)

There is a strong relationship between success and happiness. But the question is which comes first, happiness or success?

While psychological research tends to talk about success leading to happiness, there is also plenty of evidence showing that happiness can also lead to success. Some evidence comes from experimental studies that induce participants into positive and negative moods and then compare their behaviors in certain situations.

This correlation is important because many times people will focus on success thinking that it will lead to happiness and while trying to become successful, they ignore their happiness in the moment. This evidence, shows that people should pursue success but not to the exclusion of happiness.


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