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Six steps to happiness

Last month marked International Day of Happiness – but how do we measure happiness? Is it really about professional success? Emma Seppälä, PhD, believes we are on the wrong path and shows us how to get on The Happiness Track.




Everyone wants to be successful and happy. And yet achieving these two goals has never been more elusive. Emma Seppälä, science director of the Centre for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education at Stanford University, believes we are actually compromising our ability to be truly successful and happy because we are falling for common but outdated theories about success.


From a young age we are taught that getting ahead means doing everything that’s thrown at us (and then some) with razor-sharp focus and iron discipline—and at the expense of our happiness. We have simply accepted overextension as a way of life. we want to be good employees, so we work hard; we want to be good parents, so we try to spend more time with our kids; we want to be good spouses, so we cook meals, go to the gym, plan a date night; we want to be good friends, so we attend social activities—and we do all of this even though we’re exhausted.


However, this approach not only keeps us from being as productive as we can be but actually makes us deeply unhappy. Decades of research have shown that happiness is not the outcome of success but rather its precursor.


Happiness—defined as a state of heightened positive emotion—has a profound positive effect on our professional and personal lives. It increases our emotional and social intelligence, boosts our productivity, and heightens our influence over peers and colleagues. These are the very ingredients that allow us to be successful without having to sacrifice our health and psychological well-being.


So, how do we attain real happiness? Following these six strategies is an excellent place to start to 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.

  1. Live (or work) in the moment. 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 also more charismatic.
  2. Tap into your resilience. Instead of living in overdrive, train your nervous system to bounce back from setbacks. You will naturally reduce stress and thrive in the face of difficulties and challenges.
  3. Manage your energy. Instead of engaging in exhausting thoughts and emotions, learn to manage your stamina by remaining calm and cantered. You’ll be able to save precious mental energy for the tasks that need it most.
  4. Do nothing. 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.
  5. Be good to yourself. 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 mistakes.
  6. Show compassion to others. Instead of remaining focused on yourself, express compassion to and 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.