Happiness vs Success – Can We Have Both?

It seems to me that there is a constant striving for this wonderful thing called happiness.  From an early age we are taught that hard work leads to success and success leads to money and money leads to happiness –  that pot full of gold at the end of the rainbow!  So we spend so much of our lives, working ourselves so hard in the belief that it will, eventually, hopefully, bring us some happiness.

But there is a fundamental flaw in this thinking.  The results of over 200 studies on every area of our lives including marriage, health, friendship, creativity, and in particular our jobs, and businesses show that we’ve got it the wrong way round!

The researchers found that happiness causes success – not the other way round.  True success is only achieved by those who are already happy.  Happiness does not come from success.  Happiness creates success.  So what we should be striving for is happiness, because then the success will follow.

Really Caroline? Isn’t that all just psychology mumbo jumbo?  Well no, it’s not and here’s the science bit to prove it!

There are two really important parts to our brains that show us just how this works.

First of all there is our intellectual brain.  This is the bit we don’t share with other animals, the bit that means we can invent iphones, planes, cars, go to space, be creative, write music – all those amazing things that make us human.  All those amazing things that make us a success.

It stores all of the skills and experiences that we’ve had in our lives like a vast library so we can access it at any time we need to help us make decisions, come up with solutions, put forward persuasive arguments, learn and perfect new skills, in short – be successful. This bit of our brain has been key to the human species not just surviving, but thriving.

And we did this by evolving a reward system.  Our caveman ancestors knew that providing food for himself and his family was a good thing because he was rewarded.  He knew that being part of a tribe was better than being by himself because he was rewarded for social interaction.  His reward was the release of chemicals into his brain that made him feel happy, it gave him a sense of achievement and motivation to carry out the task again which not only kept us alive but was the fundamental driver behind the success of our species.

And that reward system is still in place today – when we are doing all those great things that help us be a better species – acting positively, interacting positively and thinking positively – our brain releases the feel good hormones serotonin and dopamine encouraging us to do similar actions again.

And when our bodies are flooded with serotonin and dopamine we are happy, coping, motivated people functioning from our intellectual minds where we can access all our resources so we can be the best we possibly can be.

These chemical enhance the learning centers of our brain helping us to organise new information, keep that information in our brains for longer and retrieve it faster later on.  They help us to sustain more neural connections allowing us to think faster and more creatively, becoming more skilled at complex analysis and problem solving and come up with new ways of doing things.

In other words when we are happy and producing these wonderful feel good hormones we have access to the part of our brain that helps us be more successful. 

Great, I hear you say!  I’ve got this amazing bit of my brain and a fantastic reward system that keeps my on the right track so clearly I’m go to be successful.

Well, lets just hold on a minute.  Remember, I said there are two parts to our brain?

We haven’t talked about the primitive bit of our brain yet.  This is the bit that evolved just to keep us alive, not to evolve and progress, no, just to keep us alive in the first place.  It’s our flight or fight response.  But there aren’t that many lions or woolly mammoths around these days so you’d think we don’t really need to use it that often.

But unfortunately our brain doesn’t know the difference between stress caused by being chased by a lion and stress caused by a difficult work meeting or money worries.  So as our anxiety levels rise due to our stressful lifestyles our primitive brain takes over.

The bad news is that the average emotional age of this bit of our brain is about 4-5 years old so it’s more likely to have a tantrum than come up with an intelligent suggestion!  It’s designed to keep us alive so it’s always going to look at each situation from the worse case scenario – the primitive bit of our brain is a really negative place to be.

And in order to help us run away as fast as we possibly can from the scary lion it floods our system with cortisol, our stress hormone, which makes our hearts race faster, increases our blood pressure all so that we can run away quicker, it even dilates our pupils so we can see better in the dark to see a clear line of escape.

But this cortisol also knocks out our serotonin and dopamine. So we are already in an area of our brain that looks at everything from a negative view point, when we’re here we can’t access all our resources, we have an emotional age of about 4 and on top of all that we’ve just lost all our lovely feel good hormones.  Not a great place to be, and not somewhere where success or happiness is going to come naturally!

So, it all sounds pretty obvious doesn’t it.  All we need to do is to make sure we are functioning from our intellectual brains and not from our primitive brains.  Easy peasy!

Well, not quite.  You see our brains are wired to look for danger and therefore to pay more attention to the negative unpleasant things in order to help us learn how to avoid or overcome them.  So we are constantly being pulled by our primitive brain towards negative thinking.  And the more we think negatively the more anxious we become and then the primitive brain takes over and we’re back to being 4 years old again.

But this is where the other brilliant thing about the brain kicks in.  Our brains are not hard wired – we can change the neural pathways by being aware of our own thought processes and practicing and instilling positive behaviour patterns that keep us releasing lots of lovely serotonin and dopamine keeping us in our intellectual brains.

Head over to our Top Tips for a Happy Brain blog to find out how simple these processes can be.

Even the smallest shot of positivity can give someone a serious competitive edge. The bottom line is when we are happy, when our mindset and mood are positive, we are smarter, more motivated and therefore more successful.  So, we should all be striving for more happiness in our lives.

But it takes practice to master any new skill, including training your brain to be happy.  And this is where hypnotherapy can really help – literally re-wiring your brain to be more optimistic, more positive, more grateful, helping you to get back into that intellectual part of your brain where you can access all the amazing resources you have there that make you  you, that make you more happy, that will make you more successful.

If you would like to explore how hypnotherapy can help you get in touch to book your FREE initial consultation with your local Inspired to Change hypnotherapist. Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are based across the UK in Bristol, Cambridgeshire, Devon, Kent, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Norfolk and Somerset.

Inspired to Change Hypnotherapists are all recognised by the National Council for Hypnotherapy, the UK’s leading not-for-profit hypnotherapy professional association.

To find out how you can train as a solution focused hypnotherapist click here for our hypnotherapy school information

About the Author: Caroline Prout is based in our Thrapston clinic in rural East Northamptonshire.  Caroline chose to retrain as a hypnotherapist after her own anxiety led to physical health problems and a diagnosis of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.  “One of the things that helped me the most in my recovery was understanding how our brains work and why that can have such a huge impact on our wellbeing, both physical and mental and this is something I now share with all my clients”.  Using her own experiences and training Caroline specialises in helping people overcome anxiety and chronic conditions such as CFS, Fibromyalgia and other auto-immune conditions.