Work hard, achieve your goals, become happy — that’s the happiness formula many believe to be universally true. But happiness researcher Shawn Achor says that this success-leads-to-happiness model is fundamentally flawed. In a sit-down with Oprah for “Super Soul Sunday,” Achor explains why.
“It’s scientifically broken for two reasons. The first reason is that because success is a moving target, even if you hit success, you immediately change what ‘success’ looks like for you,” Achor says.
Whether your idea of success is losing those last five pounds, landing your dream job or buying a certain size home, it’s never enough; people tend to chase another goal and look in a different place with the expectation that this time happiness will follow. This is something Oprah experienced firsthand many years ago, back when she tried to measure her success and happiness in, of all places, a linen closet.
“I call it ‘the bigger towel theory,’ because when I first started out, I’d gone to a friend’s house, who had a trust fund… I saw her mom’s linen closet and they had these amazing towels,” Oprah recalls. “So my goal was to get a linen closet with towels like that.”
She then realized that there was always something bigger and better to achieve. “Once you get those towels, they come out with bigger towels. Now they have not just towels, they have bath sheets. And now it’s not just the bath sheets, it’s the thread count,” Oprah says. “It keeps growing and growing. They keep moving it.”
Achor agrees and then reveals a powerful insight about the success-happiness connection.
“When we study it, we find that your happiness levels don’t really move very much as your success rates rise. But flip around the formula,” Achor says. “The research says that being successful doesn’t automatically make you happier, but being happier — being more positive — makes you more successful.”