Are successful people happy because they are successful or because they are happy? Science and personal experience suggest the latter. The idea that if we just make more money, do more things or land a new position at work will make us happy is misleading at best. At worst, it leads to disappointment. The idea that we control how happy we are — regardless of circumstances — and ultimately control our own success may be hard to believe, but it is true.

Study the Exceptional to Be Exceptional

Averages are the benchmarks scientists analyze for most things. The measure of happiness, although tough to define, is no exception. But if we study what is merely average, we will remain merely average. If we want to be exceptional, we need to study the exceptional. This is true with our health, happiness and financial well-being. The good news is that success leaves clues.

Shawn Achor is the author of the best-selling book The Happiness Advantage. He spent 12 years researching happiness at Harvard University. Mr. Achor postulates that when we stop studying the average and begin researching positive outliers —- people who are above average for a positive dimension like optimism or intelligence — a wildly different picture emerges. Our daily decisions and habits have a huge impact on our levels of happiness and success. More importantly, we can use specific exercises to increase our level of happiness and thereby our success (however we define it).

So again, are successful people happy because they are successful or because they are happy? There are many unhappy people who society deems successful. Take students at Harvard who have the opportunity to attend one of the greatest learning institutions and who are generally very smart folks. Many of them feel that they are not successful if they are not in the top 1 percent of their class — 99 percent of them will potentially be disappointed.

Change Requires Desire, Decisions and Doing

The first thing we must do is change our behavior to see the positive. If I want something I’ve never had, I must do something I’ve never done. The truth is…change involves desire, decisions and doing. A change of mind results in a change of heart, which results in a change of action, which results in a change of feelings. All of that can be a little scary…doing something you’ve never done. So heed the advice of educator L. Thomas Holdcroft: “The past is a guidepost, not a hitching post.”

On the other hand, things I do not take action on are probably not going to change. You may whine and complain about your weight, your spouse, your kids, your job, your team or letting your phone and email ruin your life. But as much as I hate to say this, you have no right to complain about any of those things if you don’t do something about them and just keep on permitting them to happen.

Mind-Wandering Makes Us Unhappy

Worry is negative goal setting — thinking about everything that has or can go wrong. To worry about what you can’t change is useless. And to worry about you can change is a waste of time. Either change it or forget it. Self-improvement guru Dale Carnegie said, “If you can’t sleep, then get up and do something instead of lying there and worrying. It’s the worry that gets you, not the loss of sleep.”

Even when we are awake, a recent study showed that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. So says a study that used an iPhone web app to gather 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings and actions as they went about their lives.

The researchers, psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert of Harvard University, concluded, “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

Positive psychology is “the scientific study of optimal human functioning.” It was first introduced as a field of study by Dr. Martin Seligman in 1998, when he was president of the American Psychological Association.

Traditionally, psychology has concerned itself with what ails the human mind — such as anxiety, depression, neuroses, obsessions, paranoia and delusions. But Dr. Seligman and other pioneers in positive psychology asked the following question: “What are the enabling conditions that make human beings flourish?”

You Can Learn to Be Happier—Start Today!

Here is more good news: positive psychology shows that you can learn to be happier just as you can learn a foreign language or become proficient in a sport. This rapidly growing field is shedding light on what makes us happy, the pursuit of happiness and how we can lead more fulfilling, satisfying lives.

We recommend reading the books below, which go into more detail about things you can do to improve your happiness. And to get started on your quest for happiness right away, here are a few exercises to consider:

  • Ask yourself questions to foster awareness about what actions and attitudes will make you happier.


  • Keep a happiness journal. Each day, write down three things you are grateful for. This will help you look for things in your life that make you happy.


  • Every day, send a personal note to someone who has positively impacted your life.


  • Imagine yourself as 110 years old. Write down the advice you would give your younger self. This added perspective will allow you to recognize and eliminate trivial and negative things from your life.


  • Follow the suggestion Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar makes in his book Happier: create rituals or daily habits. He says, “The most creative individuals — whether artists, businesspeople or parents — have rituals that they follow. Paradoxically, the routine frees them up to be creative and spontaneous.”


  • Simplify. Identify what’s most important to you, and focus on that; stop trying to do too much. People who take on too much experience time poverty, which inhibits their ability to derive happiness from any of the activities they participate in.


  • Keep in mind that happiness is mostly dependent on your state of mind. Barring extreme circumstances, our level of well-being is determined by what we choose to focus on and by our interpretation of external events.

We definitely want to be content and appreciative of our current situations, but we should also continue to grow. As content as you are, you can be happier each day. Happiness is a journey, not a destination, and we need to balance having what we want with wanting what we have. Please contact me, or our team, whenever we can help make your life better. Randy Carver – randy.carver@raymondjames.com  or (440) 974-0808.


Books to read on the subject:

  • Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work


  • Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment


Any opinions are those of Randy Carver and not necessarily those of RJFS or Raymond James. The information herein has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable, but we do not guarantee that the foregoing material is accurate or complete. Any information is not a complete summary or statement of all available data necessary for making an investment decision and does not constitute a recommendation.   Links are being provided for information purposes only. Raymond James is not responsible for the content of any website or the collection or use of information regarding any website’s user and/or members.