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The Big Idea—Authentic happiness is an extremely important thing to understand—for people, for leadership—and for life.

When I say happiness, I am also talking about fulfillment, meaning, and joy—and avoiding the painful heartache of regret.

If you are reading my posts, the chances are good that you have a drive to achieve more.  Most leaders and entrepreneurs are hard-charging, driven, and prone to workaholism.

Hard work is an essential component of success, but there is a point at which pushing harder harms you. You need to know when to stop—and invest your time in other things that bring fulfillment to your life.

I write my blog because I want to help shape leaders of the future—but I have a deep conviction that workplace success is not worth achieving if it comes at the cost of your closest relationships, your health, or your emotional and spiritual well-being.

I want you to have great impact, but also great joy. And I believe both are possible when you have a clear understanding of the things that lead toward—and away from—happiness.

In this series I will unpack happiness research from sources including Harvard, UC Berkley, the American Psychological Association, National Geographic, and other phenomenal sources. Then we will identify action steps you can take to put happiness practices into your calendar.

Is happiness subjective?

A friend recently asked me, “But isn’t happiness different for everyone? Isn’t it subjective?”

After reading tons of happiness research, my answer is—No, not really.

Studies are very consistent about the things that lead to a truly happy life, and the things that don’t. People on their death beds consistently say similar things about the things they wish they had done more or less of during their lives.

Certainly, life won’t always be happy. But the research shows that many people aren’t leveraging the choices they do have control over—that would drastically improve their happiness. Furthermore, research shows that happiness or joy can be found during periods of suffering or setbacks.

Therefore, having authentic happiness also doesn’t mean the absence of anything bad happening. It is how we move through and respond to grief and tragedy that has a greater impact.

Six reasons all leaders should care about cultivating more happiness

  1. Taking ownership for your life happiness—and your choices—is a vital foundation for personal leadership. Great leaders are highly intentional. They don’t sit around while life happens to them—they happen to their lives. They see themselves as the authors and designers of their lives. They are proactive, not reactive. If you are unhappy, you may need to ask yourself—Do I need to make more conscious choices to put more happiness into my calendar?
  2. People are much less likely to follow unhappy leaders. Would you want to follow a chronically unhappy leader? Neither would I. At the very deepest level, John Maxwell says that we follow leaders whose lives are worth imitating. Don’t you long to be the kind of leader whose life is worth following? Without good modeling, most other leadership techniques are useless. Many great leaders say that your team members are constantly asking themselves the unconscious question—Do I want your life? And if you model a of life of exhaustion and burnout, people won’t follow you for very long.
  3. Your children are watching you. Ray Johnston is the pastor of Bayside Church in Roseville, California—one of the largest churches in North America. He emphasizes that one of the best ways to influence your children is to work hard AND show them your life is fun and worth imitating! I love that.
  4. The leader’s mood is contagious and has a huge impact on the entire team. Harvard psychologist and researcher Daniel Goleman says that the leader’s mood has a trickle-down effect on the entire organization or team. Haven’t you seen teams with a hot-headed or egotistical leader whose mood seemed to be passed on to those on their team? The leader sets the tone. And Goleman clearly says, bad moods are bad for business—they destroy morale and productivity—which ultimately drive profits down. A toxic employee is bad for a team, but a toxic leader has an exponentially destructive impact on the organization.
  5. Sustainable leadership requires regular investments in activities proven to generate real happiness. Shawn Achor is a happiness researcher at Harvard (yes apparently that is a real job) and the author of the wildly popular book The Happiness Advantage—which looks at the relationship between happiness and success. He boldly asserts that we have always believed that if we work hard and succeed in the workplace, we will be happy—but his research indicates this isn’t true. Happiness is a major driver of success—not the result. Workplace success isn’t worth much if you are unhappy with the rest of your life. If you have a high-paying job and the corner office, but sacrifice your relationships and health in the process, it won’t be worth it.
  6. Leaders can use happiness research to set up their organizations and teams to thrive by creating places where everyone wants to work. How is your employee turnover rate? If you have high turnover, it generally means your employees are unhappy. And high turnover is one of the greatest causes of profit loss for an organization. It is worth understanding what will make your great team members happy.

Your homework—Turn information into action

  1. Write down the answer to this question—What so you believe would give you a happy life? Of these things, which are essential? What things in your life right now increase or decrease your happiness?
  2. How would you rank the current happiness level of your team or clients? Do you have anything to measure this? Does anything need to change?

Have a great weekend!


*If you have enjoyed Parker’s blog, check out The Next Peak Podcast that Parker co-hosts. We interview successful leaders and discuss research-based principles that help people win in the workplace without compromising the things that matter most—relationships, a life of purpose, and health.

Suggested Resources

  1. Daniel Goleman—Primal Leadership
  2. Shawn Achor—The Happiness Advantage
  3. Shawn Achor Ted Talk
Dr. Parker Houston

Parker Houston

Dr. Parker Houston is a licensed clinical psychologist and board-certified in organizational psychology. He is also certified in personal and executive coaching. Parker's personal mission is to share science-based principles of psychology and timeless spiritual practices, to help people improve the way they lead themselves, their families, and their organizations. *Opinions expressed are the author's own.
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