2020 not only marks the start of a new year, but the start of a new decade with new possibilities, new hopes, and dare I say it, a new you! Or at least that’s what everyone’s trying to sell us this time of year. Get thinner! Look younger! Be healthier, wealthier, and more successful! And if you can just achieve all that, then maybe – just maybe – you’ll be happy.
The truth of the matter is that when we put happiness on the other side of our goals, no matter what they are, we set ourselves up for disappointment. That’s one of the a-ha moments I had when I recently met Shawn Achor, renowned happiness expert (yes, that’s really a thing!) and New York Times bestselling author of “Big Potential.”
Shawn has spent years studying the science of happiness and traveling the world to find out how we can parlay happiness and optimism into personal and professional success. He’s shared his learnings in a TEDTalk that has over 19 million views, and he came to Target headquarters to share his stories and research with our team. As we kick off a new year, I want to share his insights on happiness with all of you.
Earlier in my career, I thought that success would bring me happiness. We’ve been conditioned over a lifetime to believe that if we work harder and get that promotion or raise then we will finally be happy. But if we keep putting happiness on the other side of the goal post, we’ll never get there. I love this powerful insight: Success doesn’t automatically yield higher levels of happiness. But happiness does yield higher levels of success and deepens our optimism, social connection and gratitude.
Happiness isn’t only just a matter of feeling better about ourselves and the world around us. When we are happy, we perform better across a wide variety of endeavors, from simple tasks to our chosen professions.
The best news in all this is that happiness is actually something we can cultivate. It’s not as elusive as it may seem…Shawn suggests a small and simple daily disruptor that can have big, positive consequences.
I consider myself a realist with a healthy sense of both optimism and pessimism. So I was skeptical about whether writing down three things I’m grateful for every day could really change the way I see the world and raise my optimism. I decided to put it to the test.
At first, my daily gratitudes were for obvious things like family, friends, community and work experiences. After a few days, I had to scan for more. I had to go deeper—not just articulating who or what I was grateful for, but why. I’m still doing my daily gratitude ritual and seeing the world and all my human connections in a new and optimistic light. Try it!
I asked Shawn if he’d like to share a message of inspiration and encouragement with all of you, and here’s what he said: "I wish for the New Year that we find a way together to move from thinking 'This year I'll be happy when...I change' or 'when...I reach this new goal' to realizing that gratitude for the present and past, as well as an awareness of our connection to others are a precursor to growth and the very fuel for positive change.”
I, like Shawn, love how the Greeks defined happiness. “[They] defined happiness as the joy you feel moving toward your potential,” he said. “It changes the pursuit of happiness from a momentary thing to something you can experience even when life isn’t pleasurable.” For me that translates into assuring us there’s hope, even in the struggle.
Maybe you’ve got all the happy you need. I know people who seem naturally wired for gratitude and happiness. But if you want a little rosier tint to your glasses, I invite you to join me in making 2020 the year we resolve to be happier, and to let happiness drive our success, rather than the other way around. You may just find that that it leads you to feel more and more like who you were meant to be. More fully, authentically, unapologetically you.
Wishing all of you a happy and joyful New Year!
Laysha Ward is Target’s Chief External Engagement Officer. In her recurring column, Shared Stories here on A Bullseye View, she shares her experiences as she visits communities and introduces us to the people she meets.