Success and Happiness

I have been thinking about definitions of success and also doing some reading around the subject –

Happiness seems to play an important role.

My own world view has been for sometime that success is a very personal thing and that each individual defines success in his or her own way. An example of success (for me at this juncture in life) would be something as simple as participating with my daughter whilst she learns something new. Another example would be when one of the students, whom I teach, has an ah-ha moment and is able to explain a new concept. Success is also about my own professional consultancy and the feelings that I have when I do piece of work well.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (2004) writes about good business – his research into how leaders make sense of what they do. Drawing on the work of Abraham Maslow he describes the progress towards self actualisation or happiness:

In the first stages the basic needs for survival are required. Food, clothing, a roof over our heads. Satisfying hunger brings a sense of happiness when your basic needs are not automatically provided for however, once these basic needs are there additional clothing or more heating are unlikely to make an individual happy, a twelve bedroom mansion with three swimming pools will not provide happiness, in fact it may lead to a sense of loneliness; The next stage is that humans require a sense of security , or keeping what they have already – police , a strong army, just laws, a stable economy are required. Even all these characteristics are not often enough to provide happiness; Next is the search for love, to belong, to be a part of a community and maybe at this stage we go in search of things that make us more loveable – fancy clothes, cosmetics, hair colours, or we join societies, take part in church activities, or search out more learning opportunities; Many people leave happy and contented lives at this level , but some search for more. Their search for “the next gateway” is self-esteem. This can be found in an honourable profession, it can be found in power or fame, or it can be found in the symbols of success. This is enough for some but for others there are still more requirements – self actualisation.

Self actualisation is about being the best we can be, it is about being able to express all of the potential that we have. Csikszentmihalyi explains that “It is as if evolution has built a safety device in our nervous system that allows us to experience full happiness only when we are living at 100% – when we are fully using the physical and mental equipment that we have been given.” He further argues that this ‘mechanism’ ensures that after all of our other needs have been met there is an inbuilt desire to use the full armoury of of our talents which enable us to preserve the status quo and also innovate and grow.

So how does all this apply to measurement and performance?
A Good business is therefore one which seeks ‘self actualisation’ one which serves a useful purpose and one which enables those working within it to grow and flourish. A good business is not just about inputs and outputs it is also about the group of people that work within it. Organisations which consider their employees have a higher output, less absenteeism, lower staff turnover.
Good business, in Csiksentmihalyi’s words, is not measured therefore on profit but on how it makes a contribution to human happiness. An argument offered too by the Hopper brothers in their award winning publication ‘The Puritan Gift’

At Wentworth Jones we work with our clients to help them distinguish the important things in their business and private life, enabling them to live more fulfilled careers, enjoy greater success, and have more meaningful personal lives.

References for further reading

Csikszentmihalyi, M., (2004), Good Business, Hodder and Stoughton, Kent.

Hopper, K and Hopper, W., (2009), The Puritan Gift, I.B.Taurus, London.

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