Financial Success And Happiness For Business Leaders

By Nell Derick Debevoise


Guide to happiness for leaders PHOTO BY PRISCILLA DU PREEZ 🇨🇦 ON UNSPLASH

Happiness is not created equal. Despite achieving financial success and career milestones, many leaders find themselves craving more happiness or seeking ways to help their teams achieve it. But what is happiness, really?

In the realm of positive psychology, Martin Seligman’s PERMA framework offers a comprehensive definition, including positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, and achievement as elements of happiness. However, the concept of happiness takes on various forms in popular culture, from stock photos of joyful moments to TED talks and celebrity insights on where happiness truly comes from.

Given the global decline (or stagnation at best, according to the World Happiness Report) in happiness over the last decade, coupled with firsthand anecdotal evidence about anxiety and depression climbing to crippling levels in our organizations, growth-seeking leaders have to pay attention to happiness. Specifically, we must intentionally invest in the version of happiness that genuinely enhances well-being for us as individuals, groups, and societies.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

Integrating the many perspectives and research about happiness reveals a two-by-two framework to recognize what moves the needle for our wellbeing. And thus, the form of happiness that we should invest in, for ourselves and those we care about.

Validation and happiness chartPHOTO CREATED BY AUTHOR

First, we can pursue happiness through externally validated activities. We might go after the yoga pose on the top of the mountain, a plastered-on emoji smile, or the love that the Rolling Stones suggest will make us happy more than candy, cocktails, or Lear jets. But if we hate yoga, have less of an exuberant personality, or aren’t interested in an intimate relationship, would these things really increase our true happiness?

At the other end of the spectrum lie the behaviors and activities that are pleasing to us. We may find that being outside, competing in recreational games, studying foreign languages, or weaving baskets really makes our heart sing. Identifying and pursuing these internally validated activities that resonate with us as individuals, perhaps differently throughout our week, year, or life, is far more likely to lead to genuine and sustainable happiness.

Pleasure Does Not Equal Happiness

The other spectrum in this framework for happiness is from hedonia, or pleasure, to eudaimonia, or a life well-lived. In the hedonistic end of the happiness spectrum, the focus is pleasure. Hedonia is the pursuit of immediate gratification. It’s the joy found in the hedonistic pleasures of life – the delectable taste of gourmet cuisine, the ephemeral thrill of entertainment, or the warmth of a sun-kissed afternoon.

In the fast-paced world we inhabit, hedonia, or rainbows and unicorns in Gen Z shorthand, often becomes the default mode of pursuit. Indeed, the internet searches for happiness retrieved these hedonic elements. Quick fixes, instant gratification, and the relentless chase of pleasure characterize the hedonistic approach to happiness.

On the opposite end of the spectrum lies eudaimonia, a term that traces its roots back to Aristotle’s philosophy. He is known to have said, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.” But he was referring to eudaimonia, which transcends the transient pleasure of hedonia, into the realm of meaning and purpose. It’s the pursuit of a life well-lived, flourishing not merely in fleeting moments of joy but in the profound satisfaction derived from living in accordance with one’s true nature.

Eudaimonia derives from the pursuit of virtue, personal growth, and contributing to the greater good. It provides an enduring sense of well-being derived from living authentically and aligning one’s actions with their core values. Unlike hedonia, which often dances on the surface of life’s experiences, eudaimonia invites us to explore the depths of our existence, asking profound questions about the meaning and purpose of our journey.

Using The Happiness Framework

As in every two-by-two diagram, we’re aiming for the top right: the internally validated, eudaimonia-linked activities that build our legacy and provide robust, sustainable fulfillment. But what about treats? Pleasure has certainly been known to accompany genuine happiness. Nothing wrong, then, with indulging in some of those top-left activities, following the crowd for an ice cream cone or pedicure.

The bottom-right activities are recognized as satisfying by other people, or our society at large – think naming a building, donating your organs, or tutoring a student. These can be a worthwhile way to invest time, particularly as your journey to fulfillment evolves. After all, experimenting with the things that are ‘supposed’ to make us happy can reveal what does – and doesn’t – work to for us personally.

But the bottom right is simply a waste of time. There is no benefit in mindlessly turning to Netflix or cookies or a drink or yet another workout – any of the things we use to avoid or numb painful feelings or thoughts. Again, the problem is not inherent to those activities, but rather the lack of intentionally choosing them to feel [truly and sustainably] happier.

What externally validated, hedonistic activities are you wasting your time on? If you were to stop doing them, what legacy-building activity might you take on? And how happy would that actually make you?

Article originally published on Forbes Leadership by PF Partner