I wrote a book a couple of years ago titled, The Business of Wanting More: Why Some Executives Go from Success to Fulfillment and Other’s Don’t. The thesis I presented was that fulfillment leads to success, not the other way around. This is not terribly revolutionary thinking, nor is it counterintuitive, yet high-achievers need to be reminded. If you are not happy now, you will not be happy when you accomplish a lot of things.

In a wonderfully entertaining and educational TED Talk from 2011, psychologist Shawn Achor of Good Think answers the age old question: Does success lead to happiness or does happiness lead to success? Or, to put it another way, does productive work lead to happiness or does being happy make your work more productive?

The science of happiness

According to Achor, it’s not reality that shapes you but the way you view the world that shapes your reality. Research shows that 90% of your long-term happiness is predicted NOT by your external world but by the way your brain processes the world. Therefore, if you change your “formula for happiness and success” you can change the way you affect reality. In other words, just 25% of job success is predicted by IQ, while 75% is predicted by your levels of “optimism, your social support, and your ability to see stress as a challenge instead of a threat.”

For Achor, the problem is we’ve pushed happiness over the cognitive horizon, by changing the definition of success every time we reach a goal. For example, when you hit your sales goal (success), you set a new, higher goal. Or, if you get a good job (success), you now need to get a better job. This means that we push happiness to the opposite side of success, so “your brain never gets there”!

As a society, we teach and learn that, “If I work harder I’ll be more successful, and if I’m more successful then I’ll be happier.” This is actually in opposition to the way your brain works.

In fact, your brain works far more efficiently from what Achor describes as “positivity in the present”. This creates a “happiness advantage”, which means a positive outlook leads to increased success; or rather, that your inherent happiness allows you to work harder, faster, and more intelligently.

Achor goes on to claim that you can “retrain your brain” with just two minutes of positivity exercises over 21 days. For details on how to do this, watch the video.