How Will You Gain Happiness in Your Life?

Chris Foster

Recently I came across an interesting Blog post on the Harvard Business Review, HBR Blog network. Written by Dorie Clark, Strategy Consultant, it was headed “Why Can’t We Stop Working?”

The article spoke about the writer meeting with a friend she hadn’t seen for a couple of years. What she saw of what once was a handsome, dapper young professional was now 30 pounds overweight and a smoker.

Although this friend was financially successful with a booming business and beautiful holiday home, he didn’t have the time to enjoy his dream home or to start dating and meet someone special in his life.

Of course, this was all due to the choices that he had made.

In the book written by Harvard Business School professor Clay Christianson “How Will You Measure Your Life?” Christianson explains that the ROI (return on investment) on work/business is usually immediate apparent in the form of instant feedback and gratification in the form of raises, bonuses and  new contracts etc. However, family life is different- at times it can be banal, boring or discouraging!

In fact, Harvard happiness researcher Daniel Gilbert has shown that children don’t necessarily increase parent’s short term happiness. In reality, for many, on a day to day basis, parents prefer almost anything (from watching television to exercising) to spending more time with their children- and work is certainly one commonly accepted excuse! Yet many business owners and professionals are devastated to wake up in midlife and discover frayed relationships, divorces and alienation from their family. Therefore, it’s important to grasp the difference between short and long terms rewards of work and our personal lives.

The relationship between happiness and success is also misunderstood, according to Shawn Anchor, author of “The Happiness Advantage“. We assume that success comes before happiness. However, he believes that happiness is a precursor to great success.  Every single relationship, business and educational outcome improves when the brain is positive first. In other words, success is a result of happiness, not the other way around. And yet, so many executives and business owners work tirelessly, questing for a goal – happiness – that doesn’t necessarily come from professional or business achievement.

For many, it’s difficult to back off on their work load- they fear that they’ll stall their career or someone else won’t be able to do the job as good as them. In other cases, the push back from work colleagues in the form of phone calls and emails when not at work means that escaping work is nearly impossible. This is magnified by the fact that research has shown in general that humans fear loss or failure more than the covet gain!

Early in the calendar year, it’s a great time to review our personal goals, particularly whether they are consistent with our business and professional goals. I’m sure most of us are not like the investment bank intern who died in London after working 72 hours straight to impress his bosses. However, we may not be that different either- it may be a matter of degree and timing. Overwork may not kill us today, but, if not addressed, it may kill our most important relationships in 5, 10 or 20 years!

True success means recognising our real, individual priorities and, as best we can, living them out today, rather than grasping at some mythical future state of “I’ll be happy when…”  

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