I used to look at happiness as something that came as a byproduct of reaching an outcome I desired. I thought that without achievement, life would not be complete and that I would lack satisfaction. I learned through trial and error that real happiness for me comes from being grounded in faith and surrounded by people I enjoy.
Will success make you happy? You might think so, but research suggests otherwise. I always told shooters I coached that happy shooters make the best shooters, and it turns out I may actually be right. Instead of happiness being the result of an achievement, there is evidence that tells us that happiness may actually be one of the things that leads to the achievement.
When looking at my Olympic trial experiences, I can watch this theory play out. In 2008, I approached the trials with the mindset that I had to make the Olympic team. I set the expectation for myself and also put the perceived expectations of others on my shoulders. I came just short of qualifying, and instead made alternate. Not only was I heart-broken, but I no longer wanted to compete and I fell out of love with shooting. Fast forward to the 2012 Olympic trials. I went in knowing that I had prepared to the best of my ability. I knew that if I didn’t make the Olympic team, I had wonderful things happening in my life outside of shooting to go back to. I was strong in my faith. I was happy. The result: I qualified for the Olympic team.
This isn’t to say that simply being happy will make your dreams come true, but it could help. And I promise it’s a hell of a lot more fun actually being happy than waiting to be happy.
Perhaps we should focus on happiness in our present state without any attachment to outcome, and not as it relates to the future. Thinking about how happy we will be in the future, maybe after the big promotion or the gold medal at our next competition, could set us up for disappointment. After all, we don’t know what the future has in store and what our outcomes will be. Our happiness shouldn’t depend on these outcomes that are outside of our control, but we can seek happiness in other ways and in turn increase our chances of reaching success.
Speaking from experience, I can tell you that waiting for something in your life to happen in order to be happy can lead to depression and a feeling of not being fulfilled. The book The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want tells us that life circumstances account for only 10% of our happiness. 50% is in our genetic makeup, and 40% of happiness is completely within the control of our actions and thoughts.
Let’s use this information to our advantage. We can take control by seeking happiness and fulfillment first, and let that drive us towards success. Pursuit of happiness, or happiness in the pursuit? I say the latter.
Levine, Linda & Lench, Heather & Kaplan, Robin & Safer, Martin. (2012). Accuracy and Artifact: Reexamining the Intensity Bias in Affective Forecasting. Journal of personality and social psychology. 103. 584-605. 10.1037/a0029544.
Lyubomirsky, S., King, L., & Diener, E. (2005). The Benefits of Frequent Positive Affect: Does Happiness Lead to Success? Psychological Bulletin, 131(6), 803-855. doi:10.1037/0033-2909.131.6.803
Lyubomirsky (2007). The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want. New York, NY: Penguin Books.