Success. Happiness. Which Comes First?

Book Review

The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.

Shawn Achor, 2011.


“We think: If I just get that raise, or hit that next sales target, I’ll be happy. If I can just get that next good grade, I’ll be happy. If I lose that five pounds, I’ll be happy. And so on. Success first, happiness second. The only problem is that this formula is broken.”[1]

“It is about learning how to cultivate the mindset and behaviours that have been empirically proven to fuel greater success and fulfillment.”[2]

From a young age we have it drilled into us that if we work hard we’ll achieve success, and we’ll be happy or fulfilled. Of course, there’s nothing wrong with working hard; in fact, there is a strong link between achievement and effort. However, as declared by Achor, empirical evidence reveals that happiness and optimism significantly fuel performance and achievement, not the other way around.

When I read this book, I found myself intuitively nodding my head, agreeing with the findings expanded by Achor. I have always been fairly driven in my work, sometimes to the detriment of myself, my family, and those that I have had the responsibility of leading; where great sacrifices have had to be made in order to achieve the goals that have been important to me. As if on cue, I found myself once again agreeing with Achor’s insight, that many of us have sacrificed happiness for success, only to see it result in greater levels of stress, pressure, and ultimately, a decline in performance.[3]

Don’t mistake this for a ‘feel-good’ book that aims to make leadership and performance effortless. Achor presents seven principles that fuel success and performance at work. He identifies the importance of capitalizing on positivity, adjusting our mindset, overcoming negative patterns of thinking, and how to replace old habits with good ones.

One of the challenges leaders often face is that the greater their responsibilities, the poorer their social connections can become. In contrast to this, Achor presents evidence that shows that the most successful people invest in their friends, peers, and family to propel them forward.[4] Food for thought.

What fuels your success and happiness? (Leave a comment below)


[1] Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles That Fuel Success and Performance at Work (London, United Kingdom: Virgin Books, 2011), 3.

[2] Ibid., 24.

[3] Ibid., 15.

[4] Ibid., 171.


Scott Lutz

Wow! I never thought of it being the opposite. Like you said, it’s engrained in our heads from birth: work hard. Be successful. Achieve happiness. Never thought of it as the opposite.

Glenn Williams

It’s interesting isn’t Scott, that what is best for us is sometimes counterintuitive? This is also why we are seeing a such significant change in thinking by emerging leaders, who are often being misunderstood by more experienced leaders. Emerging leaders are not necessarily thinking about what is best for the company, as much as what is best for themselves and their growth.

Terry Conway

In light of this comment Glenn – does this changing of the guard impact succession planning?

Glenn Williams

There is no question that this impacts succession planning. This is why it is important to think very carefully who drives the succession process. You want a team that understands the values of the company, has an appreciation for some of the shorter-term and longer-term challenges, has an awareness of the company’s culture (and if it needs to be maintained or changed), and enough experience and insight to consider appointing a leader that is markedly different to themselves.


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