The most popular happiness recipe in the world is: SUCCESS FIRST, HAPPINESS SECOND.
Millions work themselves to the bone every day because they believe hard work will bake the cake of success that they will then be able to feast on with joy. So how’s that working out?
- In 2010, only 45 percent of workers surveyed were happy at their jobs, the lowest in 22 years of polling.
- Depression rates today are ten times higher than they were in 1960.
- Every year the age threshold of unhappiness sinks lower across the nation.
- Fifty years ago, the mean onset age of depression was 29.5 years old. Today, it is almost exactly half that: 14.5 years old.
There’s no less success; but there’s much less happiness. Why? Have we got the recipe wrong? Are we using the wrong ingredients? Or are we putting them in the wrong order?
The ingredients are right but we’ve got them in the wrong order. So says, Shawn Achor, Harvard Psychology Professor and bestselling author of The Happiness Advantage.
Happiness first, Success second
Achor argues that happiness is the pre-requisite to success, that optimism fuels performance and achievement, that our brains are “hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative or even neutral, but when they are positive” [The Happiness Advantage, 15]. Waiting to be happy limits our brain’s potential for success, whereas cultivating positive brains makes us more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive, which drives performance upward. Some of his evidence includes:
- Doctors put in a positive mood (with the promise of candy!) before making a diagnosis show almost three times more intelligence and creativity than doctors in a neutral state, and they make accurate diagnoses 19 percent faster.
- Optimistic salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by 56 percent.
- Students primed to feel happy before taking math achievement tests far outperform their neutral peers.
- Of 272 employees, those who were happier at the beginning of their employment ended up receiving better evaluations and higher pay later on.
- A person’s happiness as a college freshman predicted how high their income was nineteen years later, regardless of their initial level of wealth.
- Nuns whose journal entries had more overtly joyful content lived nearly ten years longer than the nuns whose entries were more negative or neutral.
- Unhappy employees take more sick days, staying home an average of 1.25 more days per month, or 15 extra sick days a year.
- Happiness functions as the cause, not just the result, of good health.
- When positive emotions flood our brains with dopamine and serotonin, cognitive functions such as concentration, analysis, creativity, problem-solving, and memory are heightened.
- Students who were told to think about the happiest day of their lives right before taking a standardized math test outperformed their peers
- People who expressed more positive emotions while negotiating business deals did so more efficiently and successfully than those who were more neutral or negative
- Happy people recover from stressful events faster
- Students who viewed attending Harvard as a privilege shone much brighter than those who saw their studies as a chore.
- One study of 112 entry-level accountants found that those who believed they could accomplish what they set out to do scored the best job performance ratings from their supervisors 10 months later.
One meta-analysis of happiness research that brought together the results of over 200 scientific studies on nearly 275,000 people, found that “happiness leads to success in nearly every domain of our lives, including marriage, health, friendship, community involvement, creativity, and, in particular, our jobs, careers, and businesses.” 
It’s a pity that the positive psychology movement took so long to discover what Nehemiah knew about 2,500 years ago:
“The joy of the Lord is your strength” (Neh. 8:10).
Yes, joy in God empowers the believer for life’s hardest challenges and loftiest aspirations. “Delight yourself also in the Lord, and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37: 4). Or as Jesus put it: “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33).
Christians have such a positive advantage here, because we have so much more to be joyful about.
- We love and are loved by the one true and living God.
- We know Jesus as our Lord and Savior.
- Our sins are forgiven.
- We’ve experienced sovereign and saving grace.
- We are justified and adopted into God’s world-wide and heaven-wide family.
- Everything is working together for our good.
- The Holy Spirit is sanctifying and empowering us.
- We have all the promises of God.
- The sting of death is removed and the grave has been de-fanged.
- Jesus has prepared a place for us in heaven and will welcome us there.
What mind-, heart-, soul- and body-strengthening joy God gives us in the Gospel! He has baked the perfect happiness recipe for us to feast on, strengthening us to be more motivated, efficient, resilient, creative, and productive in every area of life.