Mindfulness, Happiness, and Success: The Surprising Truth

Do you believe that working very hard leads to success? Do you believe that once you achieve success, you’ll experience happiness? Do you believe that one way to keep your employees happy is to reward them for their successful results?

Like many of you, I believed all of the above. However, my recent experiences have tremendously shifted my views on mindfulness, happiness, and success.

Happiness Leads to Success

I recently watched an inspirational Google talk by Chade-Meng Tan, author of Joy on Demand. In this talk, he shared that “joy leads to happiness, and happiness leads to success.” In his book, he writes that when he became much happier and gave up his pursuit of worldly success, the opposite happened and he became even more successful. Meng’s case is not uncommon. In 2005, researchers Sonja Lyubomirsky, Laura King, and Ed Diener studied 225 academic papers with more 275,000 participants to find the answer to the question, “Does happiness lead to success?” The research suggests that happy people appear to be more successful than their less happy peers in the three primary life domains: work, relationships, and health.

This is a tremendous shift from the traditional concept of suffering first, of working hard then enjoying the fruits of your labor—success. While worldly success can carry different meanings for everyone, it’s tempting to consider a life strategy change: Pursue happiness first, and the success follows. Does this sound liberating to you?

Mindfulness Leads to Happiness

According to the Happiness Project, “happiness is possible through intentional habit changes.” The top happiness habit is mindfulness.

A classic definition of mindfulness, provided by Jon Kabat-Zinn, is “paying attention on purpose in the present moment and without judgment.” Being mindful is a very simple concept, yet a difficult skill to master. Although a formal mindfulness training program, such as Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), requires eight weeks, everyone can practice mindfulness anytime.

Mindfulness is also a liberating journey. Imagine this: Whatever you’re doing currently (reading, walking, eating, meeting), simply pay attention to the present moment, which could include the environment around you, your sensations, feelings, thoughts, and emotions. Meanwhile, also practice nonjudgment, which means simply accept what it is, with curiosity and self-compassion. When you focus on the present moment, you automatically release the thoughts on past or future events. When you practice nonjudgment, you acknowledge everything occurring to you. A feasible practice for the busy professionals like yourself is to have a mindful lunch. This means feel the hunger, smell the food, really taste the food, don’t try to check your emails or phone, don’t think about the meeting after the lunch, and observe your thoughts come and go. Simply have lunch. When you bring mindfulness to every aspect of your life, you’ll feel a foundational boost to your level of happiness.

Insights for Talent Development Professionals

To summarize this paradigm shift:

Previous success formula: Working Hard -> Success -> Happiness

New success formula: Mindfulness -> Happiness -> Success

What does this new formula mean for talent development professionals? As Shawn Achor pointed out in his Harvard Business Review article, “The Happiness Dividend,” “the single greatest advantage in the modern economy is a happy and engaged workforce. A decade of research proves that happiness raises nearly every business and educational outcome: raising sales by 37%, productivity by 31%, and accuracy on tasks by 19%.”

In a result-driven business, helping employees to focus on achieving happiness is essential. Many companies have taken action. For example, Office Depot offers employees workshops on topics such as happiness, work-life balance, positive thinking, and health. Google offers a seven-week mindfulness training program called Search Inside Yourself. Companies such as eBay, Reebok, and General Mills provide a mindfulness or meditation room for employees to focus and concentrate.

Cultivating a culture of mindfulness and happiness is a habit change. It can be incorporated into every moment of your work life, leading to satisfaction and ultimately business results.

About the Author

Jenny Wang has a passion for helping people improve performance through holistic learning. She is a senior consultant responsible for Career and Professional Development Programs for Office Depot. She is also a certified yoga instructor and health coach. Contact her at wangzhengzi@gmail.com.