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“Our greatest fear in life should not be of failure, but of succeeding in life at things that don’t really matter.” –Francis Chan

The Big Idea: Whether you lead a business, a team, or a family—understanding the research on happiness is vitally important for leadership, and a life well-lived.

Warner Brothers

Most of you have probably heard of Warner Brothers studios—led by cinema super-mogul Jack Warner. What you may not know is that although he became wildly rich, he died alone, leaving a trail of broken relationships.

Over his lifetime, Warner lost nearly all of his close relationships.

On one occasion, he performed a secret deal that ousted two of his brothers from the company. When he left his first wife, the relationship was so hostile she sued him for “desertion.”

Even with his second marriage, he was quite public about numerous mistresses along the way. When his son criticized him for this, he not only refused to speak to his son ever again, he even wrote his son out of his autobiography—treating him as if he never existed.

By the time he died in 1978, his funeral was so small that it was moved from a large room at the main temple to a tiny upstairs gathering.

It’s clear—Jack Warner achieved great wealth and fame. Was it worth it?

Business and wealth is only one measure of success. It is quite possible to be wildly successful in the areas of business and wealth, but die empty and alone.

Where we end up depends on our daily choices.

And while most people know this intellectually, we often still behave as though work, money, or status will make us happy. This is why it is so vital to define for yourself what it means to live a successful life. The earlier you do this in your life—the better.

When you have a clear definition of success—ideally one you memorize and write down—you can begin to filter all your choices through this definition. It can serve as your compass and help you make clearer decisions.

Nearly all of the happiness research concludes that strong relationships and a sense of community are essential building blocks to a happy life. I wonder if Jack Warner could have lived his life over again knowing this, would he have made different choices?

What is it to live a good life?

The ancient Greek word eudaimonia means “the good life” or “living according to what holds the greatest value in life.”

The Greeks coined this term in their effort to explore the factors that most contributed to a well-lived and fulfilling life. Martin Seligman has dedicated his life to understanding this topic.

Seligman is the former president of the American Psychological Association (APA) and the father of the positive psychology movement. He is considered to be one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century. It is well worth our time to understand what he has to say about this subject.

What could be more important than understanding what it means to live a “well-lived and fulfilling life?”

In his research Seligman has identified the 7 habits of the happiest people. Here is what he says:

  1. Relationships—Consistent with all the other happiness research, relationships are absolutely vital to a sense of joy and meaning in life. Most of life’s positive experiences take place in the presence of others. This is why regularly investing in, and carefully stewarding our relationships, is so important to happiness. And we need people that we can be ourselves with and share our hearts with.
  2. Kindness—Seligman found that people who volunteer or regularly care for others, are happier and less depressed than other people. Not surprisingly, research shows that giving and receiving kindness can protect you from disease, and may even help you live longer. To a very real degree—kindness keeps us alive.
  3. Physical Exercise—Exercise and a good diet are primary factors for lifting depression. The Cochrane review is the most influential medical review in the world and showed that “exercise has a large clinical impact” on fighting depression. Keeping your body healthy by moving every day is a basic building block of happiness.
  4. Purpose, meaning, and spirituality—Studies demonstrate a close link between spiritual practices and happiness. There are several reasons for this. Spiritual organizations provide a strong community of like-minded people. Spirituality is often linked to the ultimate purposes of life. Spiritual thinking can also help people cultivate hope, compassion, and self-reflection. Most people don’t say they join spiritual communities for happiness, but it is often a bi-product of being part of them.
  5. Identify and use your greatest strengths—If you haven’t read my prior post on strength research, you can go back and read that here. Not surprisingly, people who identify what they are great at and try to do more of it every day—are much happier. Don’t you long to use your greatest gifts to impact the world? Most people also take delight in developing mastery at something. Take the time necessary to identify what you love and do best.
  6. Gratitude, mindfulness, and hope—Happy people focus on what they have, not on what they don’t have. They live in the present as much as possible, and handle setbacks differently than pessimistic people. Hope has been linked to a better immune system and less chronic disease. People who have strong optimism don’t see themselves as victims. They believe they can do something about their life circumstances, and they take action. How we explain bad events to ourselves also plays a large role in how we move forward. These attributes are deeply linked to happiness, and they are skills that must be practiced and deliberately cultivated. They can be learned—but they take dedication.
  7. Flow States—What do you love to do so much that time disappears? Research shows that people are happier when they regularly engage in these “flow” activities. This concept could be someone who dedicates themselves to honing a sport or an intellectual pursuit. It involves setting long-term meaningful goals. These are activities that people are simply compelled to do voluntarily. They are moderately challenging, but not so challenging that they produce stress. You know they are because you find them exhilarating and fun.

Which of these 7 areas do you need to work on?

Turn information into action

  • Define what a successful life is to you—Take an hour this weekend to write down what your definition of a successful life is? Just brainstorm and get some ideas down, then start to identify themes. It can be helpful to think about your eulogy or your 100th birthday, to consider how you would want people to talk about your impact many years from now.
  • Take the online happiness quiz—Seligman’s website has a super short quiz you can take to determine your current level of happiness according to his research. It can show you the areas you need to work on. It’s awesome and could help you predict if your current choices are really leading you to a happier life or not. Here is the link

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.


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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