Success and Happiness–the new Chicken or the Egg

I recently read a great article and viewed a TED presentation on happiness at work.  The article and TED presentation can be found here.

The question raised is does success at work result in happiness or does happiness result in success at work.  Of course the answer is yes.  There are actually many issues with making success a prerequisite for happiness at work.  The article points out that the happiness releases dopamine in the brain which actually makes us more likely to be successful – especially in knowledge intensive professions like ours.

Another important point is that if we depend on success to bring happiness then we are setting ourselves on a cycle that makes happiness ever harder to achieve.  Like the alcoholic that needs ever more drinks to feel drunk, having happiness depend on success, makes you set that success bar ever higher and when (eventually) the success is not achieved you are setting yourself up for failure and misery.  I think this is especially prevalent in our profession.  One of the first things I always tell a new supervisor is to find out what their staff needs to be happy (which they equate with success) in their jobs because it is more often than not what they themselves think the staff needs.  This is because new supervisors have defined success as getting the next promotion, the next premier assignment and the resulting increase in pay as THE thing that will make them happy.  They can’t seem to empathize with the staff person who just wants to do their job well and then go time to pursue other passions that make them happy.

I also think another generalization that can be made about CPAs is that we focus on the negative events rather than the positive events.  It really is quite normal if you think about our jobs.  We fix things.  Our success against our goals is often defined as processes running smoothly without interruption.  Anything that disrupts the process is perceived as a negative which then gets our attention and focus until it no longer disrupts the process.  The article and talk point out some ways to modify that habit of focusing on the negative, but what they really come down to is recognizing success (like the many processes that are running smoothly) and spending at least as much time on the positives as we do the negative.

Ultimately happiness does not really depend on what the world does to us, but depends on how we react to the world and deep down that sense of control over my own happiness is appealing – even if the way I control it is totally different then what I thought before reading the article.


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