We live in a world where material success is assumed to provide a happy life. But plenty of studies have shown that, once we have enough wealth and possessions, extra assets do not create extra happiness. Remember when you gave someone a pay rise? They were happy for two or three months, and then that became their new normal and their happiness levels would have dropped back. That isn’t to say that they didn’t deserve a pay rise, but don’t expect money by itself to produce more happiness. This has also been studied with lottery winners. Three months after their big win, they are no happier.

So, what does make us happy, and why don’t our normal measures work for us?

The three types of happiness

There is hedonic happiness or hedonism, gained through pleasure or enjoyment of experiences or material things.

There is also experiential happiness. The pleasure we get from experiences.

And lastly, there is eudaemonic happiness or well-being. It is the pleasure we get from striving and achieving, bringing meaning and purpose to our life. This goes back to the teachings of Aristotle.

Happiness changes over time

To some extent, we seek all three. Although perhaps the proportions change as we get older. When we are younger, we seek things – a nice house, a car, good holidays etc. More hedonic happiness. We didn’t have those things to start with. But as we get older, we don’t replace our car so often or get a bigger house or acquire more material possessions. We may still seek to grow our businesses and become wealthier, but that isn’t to escape from a world of deprival, but more a need for planning for the future. Our happiness changes, so we may want more experiences, although we do still enjoy some hedonism from time to time.

We start to look for more meaning in what we do. A legacy, perhaps. We enjoy striving and achieving and whilst we still want enjoyable experiences and the odd burst of fun, the balance changes.

There’s a good argument that, nowadays, younger businesspeople have a more balanced view of the three types of happiness, as they are less materialistic. Whilst overall the proportions may be different, the principle is still valid.

Success doesn’t create happiness

Striving for a future goal by making a sacrifice now can create anxiety and reduces our ability to be creative.  Goals are finite and binary. They are means, not ends. If we set them in stone, and then do not achieve them,  we feel a sense of failure, and we put ourselves under pressure to achieve them.

Our gratification, based on this no-pain-no-gain paradigm, is derived from a way of thinking which produces results which focus on external measures of success. How you look in the eyes of other people is no recipe for happiness. You will always be striving for more. You will be in a rat race of your own making. The most common measure of other people’s perceptions is happiness based on hedonism, as they can see you having fun on holiday, or driving a new car.

But, by its nature, this is ephemeral. You must keep striving to keep up with your mental version of the Jones’s. And using  benchmarking, as we have described before, whether personally or professionally, based on what other people think cannot produce true contentment, let alone happiness. You deserve better.

Happiness creates success

It is much more about enjoying the journey, not the destination. The destination keeps moving further away if you benchmark, remember?

Set objectives which include a present and future benefit.

You should enjoy the journey as that is far more likely to result in a higher level of happiness..

This also means that the experiences you are having on the journey are achievable and sustainable.

As our happiness increases, so often does our success both in business and in our personal lives. This is because our happiness leads us to be more emotionally engaged so that the experiential and eudaemonic elements last longer. The meaning or purpose in what we do produces gratification both in the present, and as well as a future benefit. The act of doing something produces its own happiness as well as the results it produces.


If we think of the experience of flow, as described by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, as a state where you are immersed in the experience, it is rewarding in itself because it is where we feel we are at one with the experience and where action and awareness merge.

Flow brings us peak experience and peak performance.

It requires a task which is neither too difficult nor too easy but stretches us so that we are not bored, but we are not anxious that we cannot eventually achieve it. Setting objectives which are achievable and have present and future benefit helps us achieve flow.

Help your team to help you

Setting tasks for your team which gives meaning and pleasure and plays to their strengths builds commitment and better performance. And coincidentally, they will be happier. Why should we not try and build happiness in relationships, both at home, but also at work with our co-workers, customers, suppliers and other stakeholders? To achieve that, we must look for elements that do not produce a zero-sum game where my happiness depletes yours.

Take the test

If you want to increase your happiness, the answer always lies within. Here is a 2 minute test and a free 20 minute course to help you. You might want to try Susan David’s Emotional Agility test too.

How we can help you

We are all about helping you achieve the best life-work (not work-life) balance for you. We do what you need to keep you on the right side of HMRC (HM Revenue and Customs), answer all your questions, and make helpful suggestions. And we always recognise that your business is a tool for you, not an end in itself. We help you plan to live your best life for longer. We help you find objectives which are meaningful to you, and to be happy.