You’ve all heard the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg? To this day, the results are mixed. In order to get a chicken, you have to have an egg. To have an egg you first have to have a chicken. The same paradox can apply to happiness and success. So many people believe that happiness is determined by their success. Without success, you can’t feel happiness. Without being happy, you can never feel successful. People want high paying jobs, and they feel that happiness will be a direct result of having that job. However, there is one small difference between the second paradox and the first, and that is that you actually have a choice in the second. You can choose to link happiness directly with success, or you can achieve success due to your already established happiness. Even if you don’t have a lot of money, you can still choose to be happy.

There is an interesting new branch of psychology called “positive psychology.” Essentially, this form of psychology teaches that we should look for positive things rather than negative things. If you were to go have a chat with a normal psychologist, he would sit you down and ask you to tell him about all the problems in your life. A positive psychologist would sit you down and ask you to tell him all about the good things in your life at that moment. From there you would work on infusing those positive things into the less positive, and thereby live a more satisfying life. In the mind of a positive psychologist, there is no question that happiness comes before success.

Shawn Achor, author of The Happiness Advantage, details a thought process in his book about how we can never reach full happiness if we believe that we must be successful in order to achieve peace. Let’s imagine that you have a goal to run a marathon, so that you can have the pride of saying that you did it. You begin training. Day one you jog a mile, you feel elated, but you haven’t reached your goal yet. Day two, you jog two miles, you feel elated once again, but you readjust and start thinking that you still have a lot of miles to go. You continue running and training until you finally reach ten miles. You are well on your way now. But soon you realize that you’ve hit a plateau, you just can’t seem to keep up your stamina long enough to run farther than those ten miles. You begin to feel upset that you aren’t going to reach your goal and eventually give up. You feel like a failure. This could be the same for jobs.

Now let’s switch the perspectives. Imagine that you still have this goal of running a marathon. This time the reason you want to run the marathon isn’t because you want to have the pride of saying you ran a marathon, but because you feel like it’s a worthy goal to help you get outside your comfort zone and try something new. The same pattern happens as above, at the ten mile mark, you can go no further. However, you don’t feel disappointed or upset with yourself, and more importantly, you don’t give up. You started out wanting to run a marathon, because you thought it would be an enjoyable experience. Rather than wanting only the pride of it, you are less likely to become downcast and feel less accomplished, even if you never get past the ten mile limit. You made it to ten miles, didn’t you? That’s pretty dang good anyway!

The key to positive psychology is that you have to practice, and then choose to be happy. Later come successes, and why do they come? You already know how to be happy and content with your life, even if it means potential failure. Failure to succeed in something doesn’t mean you are unsuccessful, it means you have a new opportunity to learn something else. That’s what it means to choose happiness. Even if you don’t have a lot of money now, it’s ok. Don’t beat yourself up about it. You can still be happy.

About the Author
Natalie Clive is a writer for MyCollegesandCareers.com. My Colleges and Careers provides tools to help prospective students decide if an online education is right for them. Website tools also help the find degree programs, from certifications to  online masters degree programs and beyond.