What Successful People and Happy People Have in Common
Watching the Academy Awards, I found myself dancing along with Lupita Nyong’o, Meryl Streep, and Amy Adams as Pharrell Williams sang “Happy. “Clap along,” he sang, “if you feel like happiness is the truth.” Yes! “Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.” Yes! But then I wondered, as we celebrate the International Day of Happiness on March 20 (ActsofHappiness.org): How many of us really do know what happiness means and can do for us?
We are all seeking happiness but too often it seems elusive. So we turn to books and experts on the pursuit of happiness and living happy. Meanwhile, we keep wanting and needing more. Yet even when we get more and everything we think we should have, we still find ourselves searching. So we seek more again: money, sex, power… whatever it is we think we need.
Conventional wisdom holds that if we work hard we will be more successful, and if we are more successful, then we’ll be happy. But the conventional wisdom is wrong. I have been very fortunate in my life and career to learn this from successful thought leaders who are also genuinely happy. People like Tony Robbins, Oprah Winfrey, Tim Sanders, and Dave Lindsey: It was not success that made them happy; it was their happiness that drove their success and gave them a larger purpose. When I thought about it more I realized all of them have the following things in common:
- They chose and made a conscious decision to be happy; it is their intent and their priority.
- They remember where they came from but always push forward living and loving BIG.
- They are very grateful for everything all the time.
The phenomenally successful and happy people don’t wake up and say, “I am going to be happy, dammit” or need some Stuart Smalley-esque affirmation to remind them or others to feel happy. They just do it with themselves and others often through the smallest of gestures. Years ago, before he was the “Love Cat” he is today and speaking around the country about Saving the World at Work, Tim Sanderswas Yahoo’s Chief Solutions Officer and one of his biggest solutions was… a hug. Hugging people was his way of sharing happiness, acknowledging them, and making them feel better. It was his way of making the world a happier place. So, when was the last time you just brought someone a coffee without asking? Just smiled at someone on the train or bus? Were polite without expecting anything in return?
The phenomenally successful and happy people I have met use the past as part of a roadmap for refinement. As Tony Robbins says they didn’t let their past equal their future. They know if you let your past equal your future you are going to live there. They are adept and not letting anything get in their way, overcoming adversity, and seeing possibility where others do not. Tony calls it the meaning you give it. Oprah talks about the story that you tell yourself and what a story she has! She never gave up and made what happened the story that defined her and let her past be her future.
Finally, the phenomenally successful and happy people I have met have never been anything but immensely grateful for the blessings they have. It is the first thing they think about every day. They think, “How can I take the blessings to go beyond me and make the world a better place?” Whether they have a little or a lot, they appreciate it and always take a moment to reflect on it. This keeps them grounded. This allows them to admire success in others and not be envious. Gratitude drives Tony Robbins to share and give back. He remembers what it was like as a kid to go hungry and made it one of his first missions to make sure through his work that he and as many people as he could help would never feel that way again.
For Tony and everyone like him, gratitude is about “how can I serve beyond me” – they are mission driven to love, live, and give better. That is what inspires me: Giving time to ourselves and to others to help, teach, listen, and mentor because it makes us feel better. And when you do that it can be a game changer for your own success. Don’t just believe me, read the science behind it in Shawn Achor’sThe Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.
We all can learn to be this way. Dave Lindsey’s company, Defender Direct, was a multimillion-dollar business but he told me he didn’t feel “complete” until he started to give back. First, he and his team took a day off a month to give to charities that Dave picked. That did engage the team but Dave felt it could go deeper. He then realized that if he let the teams pick the charities themselves it would really ignite them and truly let them make the service their own. His company went from a giving company to a company of givers turning his team of leaders into an empowered community of givers. Today, Dave’s companies all start with this mission and he shares how he does it with other businesses and started a national Super Service Challenge designed to inspire companies and people to do what he learned: there must be a purpose beyond money.
Understanding this and the importance of gratitude is the most important lesson I have learned from these successful, happy people. I start every day now centered with gratitude for all the things I am and have – my son, my husband even when he drives me nuts, my business I started on my own, my parents – and then think about how I can pay that forward and give back and mentor. I can make them feel good because I do and that in turn makes me feel good.
Keep this in mind on March 20th as we celebrate the International Day of Happiness. And see how you can inspire others by pledging a simple act of happiness at ActsofHappiness.org.