The SUCCESS Guide to Happiness

UPDATED: May 17, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 10, 2014

A decade and a half ago, a psychology professor at the University of Pennsylvania took a sudden, sharp turn away from the road well-traveled by the psychiatric profession since the days of Sigmund Freud. He decided to study not what made people miserable, but rather what made them get up in the morning with a merry heart and a spring in their step. Martin Seligman, Ph.D., had decided to study happiness.

That decision has led to a great many findings from a great many researchers all over the world. SUCCESS ran a series of articles in the June 2012 issue on what researchers and authors are learning about how to live a happy life. We’ve kept you up to date on new research in our recurring Positivity column.

We are pleased to present features highlighting new research and advice on living your best life ever, at home and in the workplace. We hope you enjoy them.

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The Science of Being Happy

Surprisingly easy practices can mold you into a more cheerful, appreciative person—a person who loves their life.

by Patty Onderko

When the Positive Psychology movement took shape only 15 years ago, some considered it a lark or even a vanity project of the man who led it: Martin Seligman, Ph.D., author of Authentic Happiness,Learned Optimism and the then-newly elected president of the American Psychological Association. He wanted to switch the centuries-old direction of his profession from probing sadness to promoting happiness. While academics balked at first—after all, studying depression and pained childhoods had more gravitas than telling people to smile more (which actually works to increase personal positivity)—the research dollars Seligman raised and the solid findings he published got their attention.


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Discover the Formula for Happy Employees

Hint: It’s not about the fun stuff—so, instead, embrace these aspects of on-the-job-contentment to help your company thrive.

by John H. Ostdick

The formula for maintaining a happy workplace is straightforward, psychologists and researchers say—it’s just not always a piece of cake.

Although entertainment perks and employee-friendly campuses take center stage when Google and SAS claim top spots on “Best Places to Work” lists, what’s more important is the process these companies use to figure out their cultures.


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5 Tips for a Workplace Attitude Adjustment

Lead a happiness turnaround at your office.

by John H. Ostdick

Psychologist and author Noelle Nelson, Ph.D., offers basic advice about nurturing a happy work environment:

1. Listen to your employees’ opinions and use them. And let them know that you use them and that you’re grateful for their input. “That makes people really sit up, pay attention and not only work harder, but be much happier with what happens in their workplace,” she says.


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4 Tenets of a Happy Workplace

With four tips on how to get started

by John H. Ostdick and Michelle Medley

An engaged workforce is a happy workforce. In its latest The State of the American Workplace poll, Gallup focused on 12 actionable workplace elements that can be proven to coincide with performance. Employee engagement was highest among companies that had the four following traits.


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❉ Why Happiness Matters

It impacts your life in surprising ways.

by Patty Onderko

“Tell me about your mother.”

Anyone who has been in therapy at any point during the past century has likely heard that request, now a go-to punch line for an entire industry of mental health. Starting with Sigmund Freud in the late 1800s, exploring one’s past for hidden or repressed hurts and psychoses has been the therapeutic model for attaining emotional well-being. Freud’s idea of the “talking cure” remained unchallenged for decades.

But focusing on why people are miserable—and reliving that misery one 45-minute session at a time—in order to get happy became, well, depressing for many in the mental health field.


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❉ Boost Your Mood

You can program a positive state of mind with our proven exercises.

by Jill Becker

When we have a legal issue, we call in a lawyer. When the pipes burst, we ring up a plumber. When tax time rolls around, we schedule an appointment with our accountant. So why, when it comes to one of the most instrumental aspects of our personal and professional lives—being happy—are we so remiss about deferring to the experts? To help you make up for lost time, we consulted a squad of qualified sources, from lifestyle coaches to licensed psychologists, who were only too happy to share their insights and ideas about how to put—and keep—a smile on your face and a spring in your step. After all, shouldn’t happiness be a top priority on your daily to-do list?


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❉ Quiz: Are You Satisfied?

Author Ed Diener uses Satisfaction with Life Scale to find results.

by Jill Becker

Ed Diener, author of Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth and a pioneer in the field of positive psychology, developed the Satisfaction with Life Scale, a universal survey used in many happiness studies.

Indicate your agreement with each of the following statements using the 1–7 scale below to discover your contentment with life.


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❉ America’s Most Blissed-Out Cities

Find out where your town ranks.

by Sara Vigneri

Where is your happy place?

Scientists recently reported in the Journal of Human Genetics that people with a gene variation called 5-HTTLPR tend to be happier and more satisfied. Of course we know that a lot more goes into happiness than inborn temperament. And certain factors make people more or less satisfied with their living situation, or more specifically, their city. An avid snowboarder will be miserable in Florida, and a vegetarian might feel out of place in Omaha, Neb. But thankfully, there are more objective measures of happiness, so we delved into the world of statistics to isolate the happiest cities in America.


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❉ The Complete Happiest Cities List

The good, the bad and the ones that need Prozac.

by Sara Vigneri

Here’s how we did it. We know from the research cited in the previous articles in this section that certain factors are associated with happiness. Armed with this knowledge, we isolated 15 categories by which to measure 105 cities from all over the country.


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❉ Significance: A Philosophic Take on What Creates Happiness

Purpose is essential to true contentment.

by Patton Dodd

Last fall, I attended a gathering of entrepreneurs, artists, intellectuals, scholars and other movers and shakers from the United States and Canada. The attendee list was intriguing in its diversity—a variety consisting not so much of class or race, but of occupation.

What held this disparate group together? Two things: Nearly everyone in attendance had achieved some measure of success—often a staggering measure—and each adhered to a common faith. Outsiders looking in would not have seen the gathering as religious in nature—I didn’t see a Bible all weekend or hear much prayer—but if they listened to enough conversations, they would have realized that everyone seemed to have arrived with a certain warning in mind, one delivered by a certain itinerant Middle Eastern prophet 2,000 years ago: What good is it to gain the whole world and lose your soul?


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❉ What My Dog Taught Me about Joy

A beloved retriever shared six life lessons with his master.

by Sandi Shelton

For most of my life, I have been a cat person.

I have lived with little house-tigers that sharpened their claws on my couches, played midnight hockey with my hair ornaments and dragged my dirty laundry from the hamper to my pillow. I have even endured the terrifying stare of a cat that sees she’s getting a second night of “Seafood Surprise” canned food for dinner. But then I married a man who was allergic to cats, and when my last beloved kitty, a dowager queen named Lady Macho, passed on, my husband suggested we get a dog. A dog! What a concept. I figured we’d think about it for a year or three.

And then a friend told us about Jordie, a golden retriever puppy who needed a home.


Find more content like this, including happiness advice from SUCCESS contributor Shawn Achor, in Seeds of SUCCESS, a weekly newsletter with valuable ideas, tips and inspirational insight you can apply to your personal and professional life.

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