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Striving For Success Doesn’t Mean You Have To Sideline Your Happiness

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by Janice Holly Booth

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Blood, sweat and tears: You may remember those ingredients as a rock band from the sixties, but this trio is also a generations-old recipe for baking up success. And success begets happiness, right? As long as it feels like we’re constantly on the go and racking up one accomplishment after another, we must be doing something right, right?

Wrong. In her new book, The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., dismantles false theories about success, including the great myth overarching all others—that we have to sacrifice happiness in the short term to be successful and happy in the long term. “From the outside we may look like we have it all,” she explains, “but on the inside we are burned out, not performing to our highest level, and feeling miserable both emotionally and physically while our relationships suffer.” Seppälä,, who is science director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, busts six deeply-held myths about success.

Instead of always thinking about what’s next on your to-do list, focus on the task or conversation at hand. You will become not only more productive but more charismatic

Myth 1: Never Stop Accomplishing The conventional advice is to stay focused on getting things done. To achieve more and be competitive, you’ve got to move quickly from one to-do to another, always keeping an eye on what’s next.

Busted! Live (or work) in the moment, says Seppälä. Instead of always thinking about what’s next on your to-do list, focus on the task or conversation at hand. You will become not only more productive but more charismatic. That’s important, Seppälä tells Life Reimagined, because charismatic people make others feel as though they’re really being listened to and enthusiastically supported. In turn, that builds a better, more loyal support network for you.

Myth 2: You Can’t Have Success Without Stress Supposedly, stress is inevitable if we seek success. Living in overdrive is the inescapable by-product of a fast-paced life. Suffering is essential.

Busted! Instead, tap into your resilience. To stop living in fifth gear, train your nervous system to bounce back from setbacks. You will naturally reduce stress and thrive in the face of difficulties and challenges. To do this, you need to make time for calming activities, says Seppälä .“They are vital to your nervous system and well-being. Schedule them into your other top priorities, like taking a shower or brushing your teeth.” Learning the art of deep breathing, going for walks, engaging in slow-paced activities like yin yoga or tai chi, even sharing long, lingering hugs with loved ones are all restorative and help your nervous system build resilience so that ordinary stress can’t tear you down.

Myth 3: Persevere at All Costs Work yourself to exhaustion; spend every drop of mental energy you have staying on task despite distractions and temptations.

Busted! Instead of engaging in exhausting thoughts and emotions, learn to manage your stamina by remaining calm and centered. You’ll save precious mental energy for the tasks that need it most. Seppälä recommends meditation, but if you’re not ready for that, “simply choose a physical posture that invites calm. Changing your physiology can dramatically change how you feel. A very quick and easy way to calm down is to take long, deep breaths and to lengthen your exhale. It sounds simplistic but breathing this way has been shown to lower your heart rate and blood pressure.” To restore mental energy, Seppälä recommends doing something that encourages positive thoughts. You could watch an uplifting movie, gaze at pictures of your loved ones, do something thoughtful for someone else, or even go play with puppies at the pet store.

Myth 4: Focus on Your Niche Immerse yourself in your area of knowledge; by concentrating on your field and becoming an expert in it, you’ll know how to best solve its problems.

Busted! Instead of spending all your time focused intently on your field, make time for idleness, fun and irrelevant interests. You will become more creative and innovative and will be more likely to come up with breakthrough ideas.

Myth 5: Play to Your Strengths. Align your work with your talents. Do what you do best, and stay away from your weak areas. To discover your talents and weaknesses, be your own toughest critic.

Busted! Instead of only playing to your strengths and being self-critical, be compassionate with yourself and understand that your brain is built to learn new things. You will improve your ability to excel in the face of challenge and learn from your mistakes. Seppälä suggests that you pay attention to your self-talk and make sure it isn’t always hyper-critical. If your emotions are running wild, write yourself a letter. “Your words should comfort and not attack, normalizing the situation rather than blowing it out of proportion. A number of studies demonstrate that writing about your emotions can help regulate them,” she says. Other strategies like developing a self-compassion phrase to use in times of stress (“May I be kind to myself in this moment”) and making a daily gratitude list are proven ways to help you stay positive and calm when you venture away from your safe zone.

Myth 6: Look out For Number One. Care primarily for yourself and your interests so you can successfully outperform the competition.

Busted! Show compassion to others. Instead of remaining focused on yourself, show interest in those around you and maintain supportive relationships with your co-workers, boss and employees. You will dramatically increase the loyalty and commitment of your colleagues and employees, thereby improving productivity, performance and influence.

Seppälä says that these six strategies will greatly improve your psychological and physical well-being. “They will help you be happier and live a life of meaning and purpose, and enhance success. The strategies are not complicated; applying them to your daily life does not require complex training or huge lifestyle changes. In fact, these strategies tap into resources you already have.”