Traditional beliefs about success hold that productivity and creative breakthroughs are always the result of punishing work and frantic multitasking. The result is a culture of burnout, overexertion, and dissatisfaction. Instead of treating happiness as the outcome of success, you can use happiness as a tool for cultivating success. In this book summary of The Happiness Track, you will learn how healthy energy management, positive self-talk, and fun can actually increase your productivity and increase your success.
Use the strategies of happiness to increase productivity and achieve your goals.
READ THIS BOOK SUMMARY IF YOU:
- Have a lack of creative output
- Feel frazzled after an endless succession of long workdays
- Are discouraged and uninspired by your profession
Multitasking and overextension have become the new normal. Whether you’re an artist or an executive, a parent or a working professional, life is jam-packed with deadlines, play dates, meetings, and frantic emails. Maybe you check your social media first thing in the morning, make a grocery list while you drive, and catch up with your voicemails while you cook. Perhaps you scroll through your emails as you watch your child’s recital, proofread a budget report as you watch your favorite television shows, and stay up late tackling your endless to-do list. The failure to multitask now seems like a sign of irresponsibility. In this new culture of constant productivity, the speed of life leaves many people feeling overwhelmed and undersatisfied.
This new culture in which personal overextension is seen as the key to success is the product of the six myths of success:
- Never stop achieving: Success means that you never stop working, never let your guard down, and never let yourself feel satisfied with what you accomplish. No matter what you achieve, you can and should try to do more.
- You can’t have success without stress: Stress is an inevitable part of productivity, and if you aren’t feeling it, then you aren’t working hard enough.
- Persevere at all costs: Success demands that you exert every last drop energy and exhaust every resource. Success also demands sacrifice. Skipping family gatherings and giving up weekly date nights is a normal part of success, and if you can’t handle sacrifice, then you don’t deserve to succeed.
- Focus on your niche: Direct all of your energy toward the needs of your field so that you can become a trusted expert.
- Play to your strengths: Do what you’re already good at. Pick your work and recreation according to your developed skills, and avoid weakness at all costs.
- Look out for number one: In order to outperform your competition, you need to always keep your best interests at heart. Your success (and yours alone) should be your top priority.
While these beliefs and values have certainly helped some people reach new levels of greatness, they’re more likely to cause burnout, depression, and diminished energy. These cultural messages about success actually make us less productive because they foster misery. As you go through your busy life, do you feel trapped by your constant to-dos? Does doing what you love feel impossible because you’re so busy fulfilling your many obligations? Do you feel guilty when you finally give yourself a moment to simply relax or pursue a hobby that you enjoy? Does jumping through so many hoops leave you feeling empty and dissatisfied?
A culture of constant performance presumes that happiness is the outcome of success. However, people are actually far more productive when happiness is treated as a precursor, not an end result. Happiness gives you an intellectual boost because positive emotions free up your mind for creative problem-solving. Happiness helps you psychologically because it allows you to bounce back more quickly from stress. Happiness also gives you a leg-up socially: You’re more likely to have healthy, productive interactions with co-workers and family members when you’re feeling content and satisfied. For all of these reasons, happiness should be treated as a necessary component of success, not a far-off goal that you get to enjoy only after you complete an impossible mountain of work.
The following strategies will help you to harness the power of happiness and increase your overall success. By improving your psychological state and increasing your positive emotions, you will be able to simplify your life and step away from the culture of overextension. In its place, you will experience more happiness, a greater sense of purpose and satisfaction, and an increased productivity throughout the many spheres of your life. Happiness will become your pathway to success.
Strategy 1: Live (and Work) in the Moment
Carole Pertofsky, the director of Wellness and Health Promotion at Stanford University, describes her overachieving students with the illustration of the “Stanford Duck Syndrome.” On the surface, overachievers seem placid and calm as they glide ahead to their next success. Like the ducks who seem to move with ease across the pond, their productivity looks effortless. But under the surface, the overachievers frantically work to get ahead. They’re unable to find joy and satisfaction in the present moment because they’re trying so desperately to move toward a future of success.
The myths of success tell you that you’ll know that you’re on the right track when you’re working yourself into misery. Most high-achievers, whether they’re Ivy League students or CEOs, have learned the importance of delayed gratification, and they choose to turn off the TV or stay in on a Friday night to attain their bigger goals.
In itself, delaying gratification in order to reach your highest goals is a good thing. But this mindset becomes a vicious trap when you become too focused on the future to enjoy the present. Psychologist Martin Seligman refers to this trap as anticipatory joy. Anticipatory joy is the thrill of the chase and the satisfaction that comes from daydreaming about future rewards. Anticipatory joy can be a motivating tool, but it can also be a hindrance to happiness. For example, if the fantasy of becoming a published author is more enjoyable than the actual writing, you’ll never finish writing your book. If you’re a workaholic, you’ll neglect your relationships and personal health in order to get your productivity rush.
Overemphasizing your anticipatory joy can lead to mental and emotional depletion. It can make you so exhausted that you can’t actually get anything done at work, and it can make you ignore your relationships. Ironically, an excessive amount of anticipatory joy can make you less productive.
If you recognize an excess of anticipatory joy in your life, see if you can rein yourself in and stay connected to the present. Try to practice this skill so that you’ll have it when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Spend a few minutes each day paying attention to your breathing. When you’re doing a pleasurable activity, like taking a walk or petting the dog, see if you can concentrate on the sensory experiences and emotions that you’re having in the moment. Take your time when eating a delicious meal, and give yourself regular breaks from the constant stimulation of phones and email.
While being in the moment will help you feel more relaxed and happy, it will also help your productivity. If you’re grounded in the present, you’ll improve your ability to concentrate completely on a given task, or truly pay attention when you’re conferring with colleagues. Neuroscience research reveals that when your gaze wanders, your mind does the same thing, so grounding yourself in the present will help you maintain good eye contact when talking to your boss, and communicate effectively with your co-workers when you’re planning for a big presentation.
Strategy 2: Tap into Your Resilience
When you think of a gold-medal athlete or the innovator behind a technology startup, you probably think about that person’s sense of drive. Drive comes from personal motivation and ambition. It’s the force that pushes you to go after what you want.
Stress can be a source of drive. If your company has low profits this quarter, stress motivates you to seek out new markets and push your sales. If your checking account is looking thin, stress pushes you to take a second job or earn a promotion.
While stress and drive can be helpful motivators, they become unhealthy when they lead to constant duress. Drive becomes harmful if you live in a state of perpetual overdrive and constant stress. The consequences can range from exhaustion and physical health problems to depression and burnout. None of those outcomes is good for productivity. It’s tough to close a sale when you stayed up all night worrying about your performance. It’s difficult to look like an appealing job candidate if you show up at your interview with a thoroughly depleted vibe.
In order to keep your healthy drive from slipping into a state of constant overdrive, step back and assess your stress levels. Remember that there are two different kinds of stress: good stress, which is usually short-term and can help you achieve your goals, and bad stress, which is chronic and pushes you into constant anxiety.
If you find yourself slipping into chronic stress, tap into your natural reservoirs of resilience. Harness the power of your breathing to relax and step back from your overwhelming emotions. Indian humanitarian and spiritual leader Sri Sri Ravi Shankar teaches soothing breathing techniques and explains that breathing can change your state of mind. Psychologist Pierre Philippot found the same outcome in his research. His test subjects found that their emotional states were connected to their breathing: fast, shallow breaths enhanced feelings of duress while slow inhales increased their sense of calm. In addition to tending to your breath, use physical activities, like a slow neighborhood walk or yoga, to bring calm to your body.
Remember that being calm and energized is the ideal state. When your mind is at peace, it’s easier to come up with solutions to your problems or create innovative ideas. It’s why you always seem to find the answer to a tough problem when you’re taking a shower or taking a break to cook a meal. By using your breath and body to calm your mind, you’re not only removing the burdens of stress. You’re also setting yourself up for greater productivity and success.
Strategy 3: Manage Your Energy
In the practice of Brazilian jiu jitsu, the key to victory is energy management. Combat strain and overexertion lead to tactical mistakes, poor judgments, and ultimate defeat. A fighter is more likely to win if he can stay calm and manage his energy so that it will be at his disposal when he needs it most.
The myths of success reinforce the assumption that high productivity comes from going all-out and exerting as much energy as possible at all times. But the result of sustained intensity is burnout, not success. Overexertion might cause you to become cynical about your work or struggle with self-motivation. Burnout means that you don’t have the necessary energy to complete your work, and even if you can complete assigned tasks, you don’t feel satisfied with your gains.
Exhaustion is often the consequences of your many attempts at self-control: forcing yourself to remain productive throughout your 12-hour workday, or trying to push through your feelings in order to complete your assignments.
While self-control can deplete your energy, cultivating a sense of personal calm can make self-control effortless. When you’re calm, it’s easier to distance yourself from your emotions and recognize when you’re pushing yourself too hard. Above all, staying calm helps you maintain distance between yourself and the activity of your mind. When you are calm, you are less reactive and you’re more capable of acting in ways that are intentional, not impulsive.
In order to make calm a part of your life, begin a daily meditation practice. For just a few minutes, listen to your breathing. Instead of running away with each thought that enters your mind, simply observe your emotions objectively.
If you’re already suffering from burnout, rejuvenate yourself by taking time to do the activities you love. It also helps to remember your reasons for doing the work that you’ve chosen. Sometimes the why for your work can be a source of energy. If you chose your current job so that you can support your family, make sure you spend time with your kids each day. If you’re working to save money for a trip to New York, plaster your workspace with pictures of MoMA and Central Park.
Strategy 4: Do Nothing
Nikola Tesla had his revelation about rotating magnetic fields during a leisurely sunset walk with a friend. Friedrich August Kekule, the 19th-century chemist who discovered the organic chemical compound benzene, had his breakthrough during a daydream. In her books and talks, author Elizabeth Gilbert describes how many artists experience a bolt of inspiration while taking a break from their craft.
While the myths of success teach that breakthroughs are the result of persistence and strain, you can access your creativity by simply doing nothing. The following acts of creative idleness can lay the foundation for dreaming up your best ideas:
- If you’re struggling with a work-related problem, diversify. Spend time with a totally different activity, like painting in your basement, washing the dishes, or going for a run. A new activity can break up your normal patterns of thinking and get you out of your rut.
- Practice stillness and silence: Let your mind wander and give yourself some space from the nut you’re trying to crack. New solutions will emerge if you can give your mind a break.
- Have fun: Ingenuity and innovation are the products of play. You’ll come up with new ideas if you give yourself a safe space for lighthearted trial-anderror. There’s a reason why Facebook headquarters has pool tables in the office, and why the Italian clothing company Comvert has its own skateboard rink for employees. The freedom to play is essential for coming up with good ideas.
Strategy 5: Be Good to Yourself
As you seek to improve your personal happiness and productivity, remember to treat yourself with compassion and love. In order to be kind to yourself, pay attention to how you talk to yourself. Resist the urge to punish yourself or quit something entirely because of failure. Remember that Bill Gates’ first company failed, and that Dr. Seuss’ first manuscript was rejected over 20 times. Had these innovators allowed failure to deter them, they would have never founded Microsoft or become a successful author.
Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck studied the effects of negative self-talk in elementary school students. After failing to solve a tricky math problem, the children went one of two ways. They could either conclude that they were naturally bad at math and give up (a path that halted their learning process), or they could conclude that learning was in their grasp. When the students took the latter path and decided that their failures were changeable, they persisted and eventually mastered new skills.
Personal beliefs can become self-fulfilling prophecies. If you believe the worst about yourself, your performance will meet that low expectation. But if you’re able to believe in your ability to develop and improve, you’re more likely to push through adversity, learn new skills, and come up with new ideas. True success requires that you believe the best about yourself, and give yourself a little slack when you don’t instantly accomplish your goals. Albert Einstein wrote that a failure is merely a success in progress. Remind yourself that you are still valuable and capable of great things even if you don’t succeed right away. The result of this self-compassion will be long-term contentment and long-term success.
Strategy 6: Show Compassion to Others
Compassion is at the center of productive teams and individuals. Compassion motivates you to maintain healthy relationships and to take care of your own needs. It also fosters a team-oriented mindset in which co-workers willingly and happily support each other for the greater collective good. Compassion might inspire you to notice the contributions of your co-workers and thank them for their work, which in turn will help them feel appreciated, satisfied, and motivated. Kim Cameron, a researcher at the University of Michigan, found that compassionate workplace cultures not only improved health and productivity for employees, but it also contributed to higher client satisfaction.
In order to increase your compassion, pay attention to your co-workers. Read between the lines: How is their mood and wellness, and how might those factors be affecting their performance? Truly listen when they speak to you. Verbally affirm what they say by repeating it back to them. When a colleague feels upset after a meeting, respond by saying, “You sound really frustrated by these budget shortfalls.” By allowing your co-workers to feel seen and heard, you remind them that they’re part of a team that values their role. Showing compassion for your colleagues will ultimately increase their happiness, and their productivity.
Success doesn’t have to be painful, punishing journey and happiness doesn’t have to be a faraway goal. Instead, harness the power of happiness to increase your productivity. Boost your personal sense of calm, your time for fun, and your self-love in order to reduce stress, feel good about yourself, and cultivate new ideas.
When your inner life is defined by positivity, your actions will be positive as well. Allow yourself to be happy, and let it lead you to success.
About the author
Emma Seppala serves as the science director at Stanford University’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. Her work has been featured by The New York Times and The Huffington Post, and she regularly contributes to Psychology Today and Harvard Business Review.