The Last Word – from Bristol Business News

A couple of weeks ago, I was asked to take part in Bristol Business News’ “Las Word” column.  The BBN is worth subscribing to if you’re in business in the South West and want to keep up to date on business affairs.  It’s great for a summary of business events and comes out every Friday by email.

You can read the column here.

Success makes us happy. Or does it?

Our outlook affects how we react to success.

Getting a better job, earning more money, going on luxury holidays, buying an expensive watch, getting the car you dreamt of. Generally associated with success, all these things can bring a feeling of happiness and satisfaction to many.
The slight problem is that once achieved, acquired or experienced, the novelty seems to wear off.  You got that job.  Some time later, it’s likely you’ll have your eyes on the next as this one isn’t all you imagined.  The brand new car? It’s not so new any more.  However your mood was before reaching your financial goal, it’s likely you’ll return to it.  This “hedonic treadmill” (read more here ) shows that whatever our disposition, whether veering towards positive or negative, we will eventually settle on it, no matter what went before.
So for those who tend towards a more negative way of thinking, any happiness they experience will dip back to their usual mindset.  This cycle, for many, is enormously frustrating.  Work hard to achieve something in the hope it will bring happiness, to later find your are back at square one.
In my experience, coaching many successful and driven people, if their innate tendency is to focus on negatives, they will only see fleeting glimpses of positivity. So success doesn’t make them happy. They just maintain their usual outlook. They tend to consult a coach when this has been going on for a while as having a negative focus can drain energy and make motivation a challenge.

Human beings have a natural bias for the negative

Research has shown that human beings have a natural tendency towards negativity.  Negative experiences stay with us longer, if we hear good news and bad news, we’re hard wired to remember the bad.  It’s known that we tend to learn faster from pain than pleasure and will identify sad faces quicker than happy ones.
According to scientific research, brain activity differs between those with a positive outlook and those on the negative spectrum.  It’s believed that we are born with this disposition – yes, some of us are born wide eyed, looking at the bright side, and others, seeking the risks and downsides.  Whilst risk analysis is immensely useful, living your life feeling things will never go your way is not easy.

I was born like this ….

“I was born like this” is a line I often hear when discussing how clients perceive events in a negative light.

So does that mean nothing can be done?

Read anything by Mihaly Csikszentimihalyi or Martin Seligman, forefathers of  positive psychology, and you’ll find that they think not.  Happiness can be achieved by changing one’s thinking.  By setting tasks that eventually become habits that bring a focus to the positive instead of the negative. You can train yourself to feel positive.
I absolutely agree with them.  I’ve seen it with many clients, who’ve chosen to step up to the challenge and re-programme themselves to adopt a more positive mindset.

I’m not pretending it’s easy to re-train a lifetime of negative bias. You have to want to do it, and will benefit from support.  But the benefits are that you’ll see things more clearly when it comes to life and work.  It’s likely you’ll feel energised and motivated.  This energy is contagious and many leaders find it has benefits across the whole business.
So does success make us happy? Not necessarily. It is more likely that happiness makes us successful.

If you’d like to know more about coaching for a more positive outlook, email