Is Happiness Oversold? Here’s What Truly Matters for Business Executives and Emerging Leaders

Summary: Messages bombard us that suggest happiness is life’s ultimate goal. That achieving it should be our top priority. Happiness is undoubtedly valuable. Yet, we oversell it in our culture. Here I explore the idea that other essential aspects of life deserve attention, particularly for those navigating the complex terrain of the business world.

Dear Dr. Sylvia,

I often wonder if those of you who are “the experts” in leadership development and executive coaching are super happy.

When I see Tony Robbins, Simon Sinek, and Brene Brown, l am curious about what life is like behind the curtain.

I also wonder what you, yes you, do when you tumble from the successful, happiness-filled “top of the mountain.”

Do you get up and start the trek up the long and winding road to success over and over again?

Perhaps one day, you will say, “Screw all this pressure to be happy. I’ll get a simple job with lots of downtime. Then I will be less burdened and happy.”

For example, I am so busy at work making sure my staff is “happy” that it makes me miserable!

No matter how much PTO or extra gifts I offer, someone always says, “I am not getting my needs met. I am not happy here.”

And then I want to fire those jerks and get new, evolved employees who can be happy they have a job, good pay, and vacations.

When did all this entitlement start at work? Why can’t folks just be happy they have a job?

I want to blame this on the millennials.

Happiness, above all, has infiltrated not just the work world; it is everywhere, all the time, all at once.

I find it exhausting, so I can tell anyone who will listen that I am stunningly happy.

It’s like your quote when I participated in Total Leadership Connections.

“While wallowing in a vat of hot fudge
One often screams out for a piece of celery.”

I have one main question, “Is happiness the same as being optimistic?”

In any case, celery and fudge aside, what thoughts do you have I can share with my leadership team?


Breaking a happiness addiction

Dear Addiction Breaker,

Are you, like most of us, locked into thinking we are failures if we don’t have a smiley face on all the time?

It’s exhausting and damaging to become “addicted to happiness.”

For instance, did you ever wonder where this image of constant sunshine and fun began?

The “Cult of Happiness” has been here for eons.

The pursuit of happiness has been deeply ingrained in Western culture for centuries.

From the Declaration of Independence’s assertion of the “unalienable right” to the pursuit of happiness to the ubiquitous “happily ever after” endings in fairy tales, we remember that happiness is the pinnacle of human existence.

This cultural obsession has only intensified with the rise of self-help literature, positive psychology, and the pervasive influence of social media, where carefully curated images of happy lives are constantly on display.

The business executive’s dilemma is getting work done and keeping employees happy.

For business executives and emerging leaders, pursuing happiness can sometimes lead to a paradoxical situation.

The high-pressure environment of the work world often demands sacrificing personal well-being for professional success. This can create an internal conflict between the pursuit of happiness and achievement.

When happiness is positioned as the ultimate goal, executives might feel guilty or inadequate if they prioritize other objectives, such as career growth, financial stability, or even contributing to a greater purpose.

We must look beyond happiness for real success at work.

For example, meaning and purpose are the foundation of work success.

Focusing solely on happiness can lead to a shallow sense of fulfillment.

Viktor Frankl, a renowned psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor highlighted the importance of finding meaning and Purpose in life. He famously said,

“Happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue.”

For business leaders, understanding the Purpose behind their work and how it contributes to the betterment of society can offer a more profound and enduring sense of satisfaction.

Resilience and Growth build vital employees along with meaning and Purpose.

Trials and setbacks are an inevitable part of any leadership journey.

Embracing challenges and failures makes strength and fosters personal and professional Growth.

As Winston Churchill put it,

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal:

It is the courage to continue those counts.”

Focusing solely on happiness might deter leaders from taking calculated risks that could lead to significant breakthroughs.

Authentic relationships are part of what keeps people loyal to their company.

We often mistake happiness for fleeting pleasures.

On the other hand, building and nurturing authentic relationships can provide a sense of belonging and support during triumphs and tribulations.

Helen Keller’s words resonate deeply:

“I would rather walk with a friend in the dark,

then alone in the light.”

Meaningful connections can sustain leaders through tough times and amplify the joy of success.

Work settings can be lifelong learning centers.

Business landscapes are constantly evolving, demanding continuous learning and adaptation.

Cultivating a growth mindset, as psychologist Carol Dweck advocates, allows leaders to embrace challenges and setbacks.

These “setbacks” act as opportunities for learning rather than obstacles to happiness.

This mindset shift can lead to innovation and long-term success.

Striving for happiness at any cost can lead to ethical dilemmas.

Focusing on ethical leadership, guided by principles of integrity and responsibility, ensures that leaders achieve success and do so sustainably and morally uprightly. As Mahatma Gandhi said,

“While happiness is undoubtedly a valuable and desirable emotion,

our culture’s obsession with it may overshadow other crucial aspects of life,

particularly for business executives and emerging leaders.”

Finding meaning and purpose, embracing challenges and failures, nurturing authentic relationships, cultivating a growth mindset, and prioritizing ethical leadership are equally, if not more, essential for long-term fulfillment and success.

Long-term happiness includes the times we must rethink priorities and make healthy changes.

As leaders navigate the intricate path of the business world, they should remember the words of Albert Einstein:

“Try not to become a man (person) of success,

but rather try to become a man (person) of value.”

True satisfaction arises from contributing to something greater than oneself and positively impacting the world. While an integral part of this journey, happiness is just one piece of the puzzle.

And, as far as me? I am passionate about helping everyone I meet to see that we are all connected and no one wins unless we all do.

Some shrug me off, while others want more information. I have learned to focus on those who want to grow and become the best they can be rather than attempt to convince the nay-sayers who want to argue that I am naive.

So, let’s reevaluate the narrative that happiness is the sole measure of a well-lived life. Let us strive for a more holistic and meaningful existence that encompasses personal growth, ethical conduct, and genuine connections.

As business executives and emerging leaders, our pursuit should extend beyond happiness to encompass a legacy of significance and positive change.

Here is to a rewarding life,

Sylvia Lafair

PS. Please consider taking the Leadership Quiz to see where you can continue growing, learning, and feeling whole in your body and mind.

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Sylvia Lafair

Creative Energy Options