Most people think that when they achieve success, they will be happy. They say to themselves, “When I have this job and the other things I want, I will be happy.” But according to psychologist Shawn Achor, and most successful people, this is backwards. The reality is that happiness leads to success.7 Happiness is a state of mind and an attitude that you create, not a collection of satisfied wants. You can create happiness almost any time you want—it’s a state of mental and emotional well-being—because it comes from inside you.
I have traveled around the world, met people from almost every country, and found happy people at both upper and lower ends of the economic ladder. Your economic status doesn’t create or prevent happiness. Some of the least happy people I have met are in reasonable shape financially, but they missed the boat on friendships, meaningful work, and a sense of purpose. They chased money but failed to develop the skills for happiness, missed out in family and purposeful work, and don’t know how to get to the life they wish they had.
In the first The World Happiness Report, economists John Helliwell, Richard Layard, and Jeffrey Sachs reported on research about who is happiest, where they live, and what factors contribute to happiness. Their research shows that some of the happiest people are those connected with society, their village, their community, and their friends.8 They are people who are enjoying their work, earning enough income to provide for basic needs, and working in jobs that match their talents. They are not necessarily rich, but have enough income to live safely, eat, and have the basics. They do not depend on money to be happy. The lesson here is that if you have enough income to cover the basics you need to survive, you can be happy. You do not need to have the best material possessions to be in the happiness zone.9
The least happy people I have met are those living in wealthy countries—the sorts of countries where you would think people would have much to be happy about. In contrast, I have observed great happiness in Thailand, India, and the poorest parts of the world. People living in these countries greet you with a smile and wishes of good health and joy, even when they don’t know you. They have an inner joy that cannot be taken away, despite their relative poverty.10
What creates joy is joyful thoughts, not the things you have accumulated. You can create those joyful thoughts. What works for me is using my dreams and best memories and revisiting the finer moments in my life to keep my happiness quotient high. When things get rough, maintaining happiness can be difficult, but there are many strategies to make yourself happy, or at least to lift your mood. For me, the best way to get an immediate energy boost is to do something for someone else: hug my dog or someone in my family. If I really need a big boost, I sit and write myself a gratefulness letter. This is a great exercise called “rampage of gratitude,” where you sit and write or tell yourself what you are grateful for. Revisiting the great things you already have in your life is a great way to boost your mood and open the door for more good thoughts to occur. When I encourage or appreciate others, I create joy within myself. Thoughts and behaviors are like everything else. They build upon themselves, so when you get them going in the right direction, better things will come into your mind, and you can rebuild your spirit and emotional strength.