The Pressure to Succeed

Posted by Ashley Landrum on 1/12/2018 7:00:00 AM

As a society, we tend to function under pressure to succeed, whether it entails winning the game, earning a promotion, or losing a few pounds. We revolve around the idea that we will experience true happiness if we have earned it, and therefore success = happiness. We might say to ourselves, “If only I had...if I only lost...if I only earned….THEN I will be happy”. While hard work should not be discredited, research shows us that contingent happiness is not truly happiness at all. We have it backwards.

Positive psychology is a growing area of interest in the research community. Shawn Achors has completed large scale studies in this area. After spending twelve years at Harvard University conducting research among the student population, he has become one of the experts in the field of positive psychology as it relates to happiness and success. His findings? By always focusing on our next success, we are not experiencing true happiness. While conducting research with his student subjects, he found that although them had been at the top of their classes and experienced many successes, most experienced high rates of stress and depression.

Achors’ research shows that being positive first and foremost leads to greater success next. Additional findings suggest that up to “75% of our job success is predicted not by intelligence, but by your optimism, social support network, and the ability to manage energy and stress in a positive way” ( In other words, happiness will result in success because positivity allows our brains to become more energized, motivated, and resilient. By changing our way of thinking, we can truly impact our daily work in a positive manner.

Achors presents seven key principles in his book, The Happiness Advantage, that allow us to begin taking steps toward changing our mindset and adopting a new view of happiness. He goes on to explain how we can adjust our mindset in ways to give us more power and control over the way we think about the world, how we can adopt a positive outlook, navigate our way out of negative events, regain control by focusing on small, manageable goals when our workload is overwhelming, and most importantly, invest in our social support network. These steps allow us to be the better version of ourselves while gaining more satisfaction out of every day.

In summary, if you find yourself stuck in the mindset of “if only...then I will be happy”, I encourage you to stop and think about shifting your mindset. Research indicates that you will be a happier, healthier person if you do. We can all benefit from focusing on the process and our own attitude, instead of letting outcomes define our happiness. Author J. K. Rowling summarized this idea succinctly in her commencement address to Harvard students when she stated, “Happiness lies in knowing that life is not a checklist of acquisition or achievement”.

Ashley Landrum, Ed. S
School Psychologist