Success vs happiness

I have been doing a lot of work on myself lately and it has paid off biiiig time.

I’m the happiest I’ve ever been.

Most of this work comes from learning one little piece of life changing information….

  • Thoughts –> feelings –> actions –> results

I learned this gem from many personal development books, but most notably Brooke Castillo from The Life Coach School.

My thoughts create my feelings. My feelings create my actions. My actions determine my results.

To know that I have control over exactly what I think which creates my feelings, actions and results is the most powerful lesson I’ve ever learned.

I’ve applied this to every aspect of my life, but today I want to talk specifically about success and happiness.

The Problem: We Don’t Separate Success From Happiness

The problem is that we mix up success and happiness.

We don’t allow ourselves to feel happy now. Instead, we think happiness comes with success.

Interestingly, we really don’t define these terms, either.

We end up postponing happiness until achievement of something in the future.

This is bad news. It never works out.

Here’s a look at how to define both success and happiness, then I’ll get into what happens when we mix them up and how you can change that in the future.

How To Define Success

On the interwebs, success is defined as “the accomplishment of an aim; an attainment of popularity or profit; attaining prosperity.”

You can use this definition or come up with your own. Define success based on what you want in your life – what you want to achieve. And most importantly, why it is you want this. The deeper your way, the stronger your commitment will be. Your goals should send you into the successful person you want to be.

The key here is that you need to be clear about your definition of success in order to know when you’ve attained it.

Don’t use someone else’s definition of success (society’s definition, your parents’ definition, etc.).

If you’re not intentional about defining success for yourself, you’ll end up using someone else’s definition, which is an easy way to end up chasing something you don’t want in the first place.

I did this all wrong at first. I defined success by doing what my parents said to do – go to law school. Fortunately, I realized this wasn’t for me early on in my career. I quit and have been designing a life I love ever since. It has gotten much easier to go after my own version of success with practice. It was hard at first (like anything).

Success won’t make you happy. Success is a way to evolve and grow into the best version of yourself.

When you pursue success from abundance and happiness, you’ll move out of happiness and contentment during the process (just like anything you do in life), but it’s worth it. You’ll have thought patterns that you “can’t do it” or that it seems impossible, but that’s normal. You can work on that.

If you try to achieve something to try to get happiness on the other side, you’re going to quit or if you do succeed, you still won’t be happy.

Sometimes, people wonder if you can be happy now and have contentment now, why bother with success? Because you want to. From a place of contentment, you’ll find that you may want to pursue more and evolve as a human.

You can evolve through pain, anxiety, and discontentment, or you can evolve from happiness. Evolving from happiness is better. This is why some super successful people who “have it all” are miserable and other successful people are happy. Their motivations are completely different.

Achieving something isn’t about attaining happiness – it’s about expressing your happiness. The happier you are, the more you’ll create success in your life from a place of abundance.

Now on to happiness…

How To Define Happiness

When I look it up online, happiness is defined as “a feeling of contentment, delight, or being pleased”.

If happiness is a feeling of contentment, the question is: what are you waiting for?

As I mentioned in the beginning, your thoughts create your feelings. Your feelings create your actions. Your actions create your results.

If happiness is a feeling, then it is always available to you. It’s always a choice.

You can choose to be happy now, right where you are based on creating thoughts that make you feel happy.

Your circumstances don’t have to change for you to be happy.

I’m not saying you should choose to think happy thoughts all the time. The experience of life means that there is contrast. So, there are times when you’ll want to choose negative emotion. If someone you love is hurt, for example, you probably don’t want to choose to be happy about it.

But you also don’t have to wait for success to be happy.

What you do in your life should come from happiness. You should not do things in your life to achieve happiness because it won’t work.

Don’t chase happiness by pursuing goals. Happiness doesn’t come from your goals or results. Happiness comes from your mind with what you think and how you feel.

When you think thoughts that make you happy, you will feel happy. Then, you’ll take action based on your happy feelings and get results based on those actions.

Bottom line: happiness is available to you before, during, and after the journey to pursue your goals.

What Happens When We Commingle Success & Happiness

Shawn Anchor says in The Happiness Advantage that success does not lead to happiness. Happiness leads to success.

I had read this book before and knew he said this, but it didn’t click until I realized that my thoughts create my feelings. I didn’t know I could literally rewire how I think and create new thought patterns that would lead to feeling so happy.

You can be happy right now in this moment without having to achieve anything more.

At the same time, you can feel driven from that happiness to set goals and be successful. When you push yourself into big goals, you may bring up negative emotions – fear, doubt, resistance, etc. This takes you out of happiness. That’s okay. That’s part of the process. That’s worth it.

The biggest takeaway here is don’t try to obtain something believing that happiness is on the other side.

This is what is happening when you hear about people who are super driven and successful and seem to “have it all” but are miserable. They’re being driven toward success by negative emotion – anxiety, stress, fear, etc. They expected happiness to be on the other side of success. That is never the case.

You are as happy now as you ever can or will be.

How To Create Happiness & Success

You can intentionally create happiness and success in your life.

Exciting news, I know. 🙂

Here’s how…


You can think thoughts and be happy right now. And I mean reallllly happy.

Whatever you are feeling right now is the result of thoughts you’re having. Your brain is efficiently doing what it’s always been doing – thinking thoughts that create your feelings. Your brain is programmed for efficiency.

If you’ve always thought you’re not good enough, then that’s the feeling you’ll create, which leads to the actions you’ll take, which creates the results in your life. If you are programmed to be stressed, anxious, and unhappy, then that will be your default.

We are all programmed for survival – fight or flight and everything that comes with it (anxiety, fear, etc.). It takes a lot of energy and intention to change your thought pattern.

But the good news is you can change your thoughts.

You don’t have to project your past on to your future. You can project something new onto your future by using your imagination to create new thoughts that create a happy feeling.

To create the feeling of happiness, start by doing these steps to increase your awareness of your own happiness:

  1. Notice and name the feelings you’re currently having. Don’t say “I don’t know” – make sure you identify exactly how you feel right now.
  1. Find the thoughts causing your current feelings. Write down exactly what thoughts you’re having that cause your current feelings. Don’t stop writing until you’ve got it all down.
  2. Notice how your current feelings create your actions and results. The way the world works is that thoughts create feelings which create actions which give you the results in your life. Notice how this is true for you.

Just having this awareness alone will start to change how you feel because you’ll start to observe your own feelings.

Here are exercises you can do to stimulate new feelings:

  1. Be willing to feel. Greet the emotion (imagine you’re opening your front door and let the emotion in). Describe that emotion in as much detail as possible from the “watcher” position. Write it down. If you were teaching someone what this emotion felt like, how would you describe it? Memorize this emotion so you can re-feel it on purpose anytime.
  2. Practice feeling emotions on purpose by making negative emotions stronger. Next time you feel a negative emotion, stimulate new thoughts to make the feeling worse. When you do this, you realize you are in control of your emotions – not the other way around. Emotions are just a reaction to your thinking. You’ll realize this when you notice how you can make yourself feel worse. Once you have practiced negative emotion, you can move on to positive emotion. But start with negative emotion.
  3. Practice generating positive emotions on purpose. There are two ways to do this. First, pick a thought that makes you feel a certain positive emotion. Practice thinking it and responding to that thought by over-exaggerating your positive feelings (think Jim Carey). This will help you understand that you are in control of your feelings. Second, the next time you feel the way you want to feel, memorize that feeling. Then, practice it over and over. For example, let’s say you go home and see your dog and you immediately are beaming with happiness. Pause and memorize that feeling. Then, practice generating it when you’re not with your dog. (Note: do not go to your past to create positive or negative emotions. This keeps you past-focused and takes you out of the present. You should create emotion from your thinking that is in the present moment and something you’re moving toward.) Think about 1) what you’re thinking, 2) the vibration in your body, and 3) the actions you would take with this feeling. This is not an attempt to create positive emotions in or to ignore or get out of negative emotions. It’s an exercise to genuinely stimulate positive emotions when you want to feel a certain way.

Tips to increase your emotion-generating success, here are a few more tips:

  1. Remind yourself of the contrast of life. Bad things happen. They’re supposed to happen. How do we know? Because they do. When something bad happens, remind yourself of this. And decide to feel a negative emotion on purpose (when something bad happens, you probably want to feel bad – e.g.: bad test results or someone dies).
  2. Don’t confuse happiness with external pleasure. Seeking pleasure externally is often escaping, which is not happiness. Pleasure can come from over-eating, over-drinking, over-Netflixing, etc. Anything you do to escape your life and stimulate your intake of pleasure. This just creates a need to over-consume and takes you out of long-term happiness.
  3. Find feeling triggers. Think of things that make you feel a certain way when you experience them. Then when you see them remember how they make you feel. An example would be your dog, or a favorite bracelet, or a room in your house. It could be your coffee, or something else. Whatever seeing these things makes you feel, remember to feel it as a trigger every time you see it. Creating external triggers will boost your happiness.
  4. Let go of trying to change your circumstances. Your circumstances aren’t making you unhappy – your thoughts about your circumstances are. Someone in the exact same situation as you could be completely happy or feel differently. It’s important to remember this so you know that you have control over your own happiness and aren’t waiting for some external factor to change for you to be happy.
  5. Remember emotions are just vibrations in your body that you generate based on your thoughts. Do not forget this! If you’re feeling “blah” you should work on your thought management and belief systems – not on seeking something externally to make you feel a certain way.

Besides these tips, here are my blog posts on happiness for more blog posts on happiness:

  1. The 10 Best Happiness Books
  2. 15 Ways To Increase Your Happiness Today
  3. 21 Things To Stop Doing That Will Increase Your Happiness
  4. 5 Strategies To Improve Your Happiness
  5. Finding Pleasure

On to success…


Here are the steps to creating success in your life.

Step 1: Define success

The most important step is to define what success means to you up front.

What do you want?

The only rule here is you’re not allowed to say “I don’t know.”

I don’t know keeps you in indecision. Decision-making is a skill that you can practice. Choose anything that’s on your maybe list and start there. Give yourself a deadline to make the decision. It doesn’t have to be perfect. You can change course, but you can’t stay stuck in “I don’t know.”

So, decide what you want.

You may define success as becoming a lawyer or a doctor or a stay at home mom. You may define it as working for yourself or totally financial freedom. It’s totally up to you.

You can continue to add to what you want as you achieve success, too. It’s not one-and-done.

Once you know what you want, make sure you know why you want it. Like I mentioned above, the stronger your why, the greater your commitment will be.

Step 2: Set goals to achieve success

Once you have your definition of success, create a goal for achieving it.

The secret to this step is to break down your goal into really small bite-size pieces. The smaller, the better. Then, you can schedule out each mini-goal on your calendar in the step below.

If you don’t know exactly what steps you’ll need to take to accomplish your goal, then make that a step. For example, you would put “research what steps to take to accomplish XYZ goal” on your calendar.

Everything is figureoutable.

Then, use the SMART method to actually set your goals and mini-goals. Goals should be:


Here are all my goal-setting blog posts:

  1. How To Achieve Goals – My 8 Step Process
  2. How To Adopt A Mindset For Achieving Goals
  3. 8 Strategies For Accomplishing Your Goals
  4. Impossible Goals
  5. Why Your Brain Needs Goals

Step 3: Plan each step in your goals on your calendar

Take the individual steps for your goal and schedule them out on your calendar. Do this down to the year, the month, the week, and the hour.

Do not schedule “work on goal” on your calendar. Schedule the outcome that you want to produce during the time allotted. This will keep you producing and not just “busy.”

This is a reallllly tedious step but it pays off.

Once it’s on your calendar, it’s as good as done.

To start scheduling your goals, use Dream Year, my goal setting workbook.

Rinse and repeat.

Remember, to acknowledge your success when you’ve accomplished it. You’ve defined success for yourself, so if and when you achieve it, remind yourself of that.

A Final Note!

This way of thinking has changed my life.

I’ve learned how to be happy whenever I want to. I practice this by managing my mind, creating new thought patterns, and believing in myself.

I set and create goals of higher achievement from a place of abundance. I don’t do this because I think it’ll make me happy. I do it because I believe in growing and evolving – because I want to contribute to the world in the best way that I can.

Happiness and success are two different things. Don’t confuse them!