What will it take for you to define this year as a success?
Is it about what you achieved?
Is it about getting a promotion or an increase in salary?
Is it about whether you felt happy?
What if we expand to a larger scale? What would it take for you to define your life as successful? Would it be whether you became a CEO? Or made a million dollars? Or got married and raised some children?
It can be easy to focus on these external markers of success or failure and believe that this is the route to happiness. One problem with this is that the research suggests that we over estimate the impact of these events (Wilson & Gilbert, 2003). We think that if we get the good job and nice house, we will be happy, so we pursue those goals. But happiness actually seems to be much more about:
- Feeling part of a supportive network of close relationships (Slatcher, R, 2021)
- Following routines (Archer, R, 2022) of behaviour that tend to create happiness (Kurts, J, Lyubomirsky, S & Nelson, K, 2012) (Hamzelou, J, 2010) and,
- Certain helpful habits of thinking (Conkle, A, 2008)
One of those habits of thinking is psychological flexibility.
“Contacting the present moment fully as a conscious human being, and based on what the situation affords, changing or persisting in behavior in the service of chosen values” (Hayes & Smith, 2005)
Psychological flexibility seems to be a key factor in well-being (Kashdan, T, 2010) even helping people to cope better during the Covid-19 pandemic (Dawson, D. L. & Golijani-Moghaddam, N, 2020).
Psychological flexibility invites us to define success differently. It involves developing an internal yardstick for measuring success. Choosing your values and then intentionally putting those values into action based on the needs of the situation.
Using this yardstick, external achievements start to matter less. What matters more is: How much am I showing up as the person I want to be?
And paradoxically, measuring success by whether you’ve lived your values and whether you were the person you wanted to be, is actually more likely to create richness and meaning in life (Aaker, J, Baumeister, R, Garbinsky, E & Vons, K, 2012).
This year, try using these three questions to define success:
- Was I present?
- Did I show up as the person I want to be?
- Did I notice with kindness those moments when I wasn’t being the person I want to be and adjust my behaviour accordingly?
Aaker, J, Baumeister, R, Garbinsky, E & Vons, K. (2012). Some Key Differences between a Happy Life and a Meaningful Life. Stanford Business. https://www.gsb.stanford.edu/faculty-research/publications/some-key-differences-between-happy-life-meaningful-life#:~:text=Happiness%20was%20linked%20to%20being,higher%20meaningfulness%20but%20lower%20happiness
Archer, R. (2022). The Great 2022 Reset: You don’t need new habits, you need a (high-performance) routine. Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/2022/01/19/the-great-2022-reset-you-dont-need-new-habits-you-need-a-high-performance-routine/
Archer, R & Collis, R. (2013). What is Psychological Flexibility? Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/what-is-act/what-is-psychological-flexibility/
Collis, R. (2021). How to Choose Your Values and Why it Matters. Working with ACT. https://workingwithact.com/2021/12/27/how-to-choose-your-values-and-why-it-matters/
Conkle, A. (2008). Serious Research on Happiness. Association for Psychological Science. https://www.psychologicalscience.org/observer/serious-research-on-happiness
Dawson, D. L. & Golijani-Moghaddam, N. (2020) COVID-19: Psychological flexibility, coping, mental health, and wellbeing in the UK during the pandemic. Journal of contextual behavioral science. [Online] 17126–134.
Gilbert, D & Wilson, T. (2003). Affective Forecasting. Harvard. http://wjh-www.harvard.edu/~dtg/Wilson%20&%20Gilbert%20%28Advances%29.pdf
Hamzelou, J. (2010). Daily Choices Can Affect Long-Term Happiness. New Scientist. https://www.newscientist.com/article/dn19545-daily-choices-can-affect-long-term-happiness/
Hayes, S & Smith, S. (2005). Get Out of Your Mind and Into Your Life. https://www.newharbinger.com/9781572244252/get-out-of-your-mind-and-into-your-life/
Kashdan, T. (2010). Psychological Flexibility as a Fundamental Aspect of Health. National Center for Biotechnology Information. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2998793/
Kurts, J, Lyubomirsky, S & Nelson, K. (2012). What Psychological Science Knows About Achieving Happiness. http://www.sonjalyubomirsky.com/files/2012/09/Nelson-Kurtz-Lyubomirsky-in-press1.pdf
Slatcher, R. (2021). Speaking of Psychology: How close relationships keep us healthy and happy, with Richard Slatcher, PhD. American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/close-relationships