Does success lead to happiness or vice versa?

Whenever possible, I try to commute into London after the rush hour. I do this not only because I can get a cheap day return with the added discount of a Senior Railcard, but because I find it distressing to watch so many of my fellow commuters looking so miserable.

Overcrowding on these commuter trains also means that some of them are so stressed out about getting out at the right stop that they block the window seats by sitting next to the aisle. And if you ask them ever so politely to get up so you can sit next to the window (they never slide over to sit next to the window), you often get THAT look.

Yet many of them are commuting in from wealthy towns like Tunbridge Wells and Sevenoaks and are probably earning several times the average income for the UK. They are economically “successful” but are they “happy”? If they’re not happy, does this mean that they haven’t been successful? What’s the point of being successful if it doesn’t make you happy, or if you can only be happy when you can get away from your work at the weekend or on holiday? (Assuming you leave your work devices at work…)

When I was at school, I remember my parents repeating the mantra that I needed to work hard at school, to get a good job, to buy a house, get married and have children and then grandchildren. But looking back, they didn’t really talk about whether this kind of success would make me happy or fulfilled or that my life had any meaning.

Which takes me to fascinating research that I read last week which asked the opposite question, Does Happiness Promote Career Success? The conclusion was that “…the evidence suggests that happiness is not only correlated with workplace success but that happiness often precedes measures of success and that induction of positive affect leads to improved workplace outcomes.”

So if this is true, why don’t more employers create happier and safer workplace cultures? This in itself would be a success given the time we spend at work. And the sustainable economic value we are all looking to create is also more likely to come from a happier workplace, rather than the misery of joyless meetings and the misery of the commute.

“Happiness is not best achieved by those who seek it directly”

Bertrand Russell