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The secret to success? Work happier, not harder

Many of us pursue success with the belief that when we achieve it we’ll also come to be happy. But we need to flip our thinking: it’s happiness that breeds success. Psychological research shows that people need to develop sustainable day-to-day contentment, rather than looking for an elusive happiness that’s off in the distance if they want to succeed in work and life.

Studies have shown that your brain is at its best when you’re positive; and when you’re positive you’re more engaged, energetic and resilient. This will in turn provide you with the fuel required to become successful. And there’s no need to wait for the boss to dish out daily doses of glee. You have the tools to develop inner joy; you just have to know how to use them.

The happiness advantage
Shawn Achor psychologist and author of The Happiness Advantage says that 75 per cent of success is a result of optimism levels. More than 12 million people have watched his TED talk on positive psychology. The good news is you can train yourself to be happier at work. So even if you’re yet to claw your way up the ladder to the ultimate role, it is possible to have a sunnier disposition, be more productive and kick career goals sooner, simply by dialing up the dopamine.

Achor suggests exercising regularly, practicing meditation and offering professional acts of kindness to colleagues, such as praise for good work. He says by retraining our brains to see possibilities – even in environments that are stressful or negative – we’re able to seize opportunities that others might miss. According to Achor, happier employees deliver higher profits, too. So making happiness a central business goal is as beneficial for business owners as it is for its people.

Spreading professional good vibes at works
Many companies now go to great lengths to ensure their employees’ wellbeing is in good shape. Companies including Netflix and LinkedIn provide their staff with discretionary time off. So if they need a break, they take one – no need to accrue annual leave first.

At Swisse, there’s a culture plan in place to ensure the team is healthy and happy enough to deliver excellent results. Employees have access to yoga, an on-site gym, a mediation program, access to naturopaths and a range of healthy food.
According to Swisse director of people and culture, employees are ‘fundamental to our success and only by priorotising their health and happiness at work can we achieve our business goal of becoming a global wellness brand.’

Come on, get happy
According to Dr Linda Hartley-Clark, associate research fellow in the School of Psychology at Deakin University, we are all born with what she calls ‘baseline happiness’. When we experience ongoing adversity in our careers or personal lives, it’s possible to lose touch with this natural state of happiness. ‘This is because strong emotions associated with significant life events take over and push this natural state of pleasantness into the background,’ she says.

To return to our baseline when we’re tested at work, Dr Hartley-Clark recommends taking the time to acknowledge our positive qualities, jotting down what we’ve done well and what this demonstrated. ‘Then take a moment to savour the qualities and allow yourself to experience a sense of pride in who you are,’ she suggests. If self-reflection isn’t your thing, try making time to do things that bring you pleasure or a sense of accomplishment – at work or on your own terms. It could make a huge difference to your wellbeing, as well as your career prospects.

There are two types of happiness that people can strive for: hedonistic and eudaimonic. Hedonistic happiness stems from the desire to pursue pleasure over pain. ‘Eudaimonic states evolve from pursuing certain qualities considered desirable for a good life,’ she explains, adding, ‘Some of these prescribed qualities predict human flourishing. They include developing a sense of autonomy, purpose in life, acceptance of self and others, and personal growth.’ It doesn’t matter which kind of happiness you strive for, Dr Hartley-Clark concludes, as long as you’re pursuing the happiness that matters to you.

Keen to unlock success at university with the happiness advantage? Find out why Deakin University students are the most satisfied in Victoria at choose.deakin.edu.au.

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Dr Linda Hartley-Clark
Dr Linda Hartley-Clark

Associate Research Fellow, School of Psychology, Deakin University
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