Why Happiness Comes Before Success

“I’ll be happy when I become successful.” is one of those thoughts I think we all hold at one point, in different variations.

We feel like the destination will give us the feeling of satisfaction we desire, yet this way of thinking might actually be counter to our nature, as human beings.

You see, according to Happiness Researcher and New York Times bestselling author Shawn Achor, this way of thinking (success brings happiness) actually goes against the brain’s natural tendency which is to perform better under the influence of dopamine, and worse under the influence of cortisol.

You might already know dopamine is the “happiness” hormone; it’s release in the body is caused by positive emotions, laughter, good food, and things of that nature. 🙂

And cortisol being the opposite side of the coin, it’s release is triggered by stress in all its forms as well.

Taking the time to celebrate small achievements is important.

Usually as soon as that happens it’s on to the next one, satisfaction often doesn’t last long, so how do we expect the often too abstract concept of “success” to bring about any “happiness” if all we do is push it back further and further once we get too close. The idea is not to reach your goal, be content for ever and stop trying to maximize your potential, but think about how marathon runners wouldn’t enjoy marathons if the finish line kept being pushed back every time they came close.

It’s good to feel the ribbon across your waist from time to time.

If Achor’s research is any indication, it would seem that our brains actually evolved to use happiness as a kind of spring-board from which to reach success, whatever that may look like for you. In his 2011 Tedx talk Achor says:

“Dopamine which floods into your system when you’re positive has two functions, not only does it make you happier but it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain. Allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way.”


So essentially, dopamine is to the brain what oil is to cogs in a machine.

Being in a state of happiness would let you perform better, and in essence facilitate your success.

Achor calls this the happiness advantage. 

How much of an advantage? Well how about:

  • More brain-power
  • More creativity
  • More energy

All these buffs have been measured on people whose brains were under the influence of dopamine. So don’t scoff at happiness in the face of your goals, despite your goals still being goals.

Maybe instead of chasing money or chasing status what we should be really chasing, is happiness…

Cheesy I know, who would have thought science would back this up. 🙂

Finally, there’s a lot of advice out there on how to find your happiness, but if I could suggest just one thing to you:

Try not to worry about circumstances or events you have no control over. 

If you find that the outcome of a situation is definitely not in your hands, then do put the relevant authorities in charge of the situation for you, whoever that might be, If it’s not your fight, might as well spare the energy for things you do have the power to influence.

You never know what lies ahead for you, a shit-storm might turn out to be a perfect-storm, you can’t ever know in advance, but that’s what makes life worth living. 🙂


Erin shows overscheduled, overwhelmed women how to do less so that they can achieve more. Traditional productivity books—written by men—barely touch the tangle of cultural pressures that women feel when facing down a to-do list. How to Get Sh*t Done will teach you how to zero in on the three areas of your life where you want to excel, and then it will show you how to off-load, outsource, or just stop giving a damn about the rest.

11 Responses to Why Happiness Comes Before Success

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