Why Success Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness (And How to Fix It)

Wendy Suzuki

Wendy Suzuki

Have you ever felt like you wanted more out of life, even if you’d already achieved a measure of success? Did you ever wonder what you’d sacrificed to achieve your goals?

These are the questions Wendy Suzuki asked herself when she woke up at 40 and realized something was missing.

What sets Suzuki apart is that she’s an award-winning Professor of Neural Science and Psychology at NYU. She studies how our brains retain long-term memories and how exercise affects our cognitive abilities. And she chronicles how she put that expertise to use in her recently released book Healthy Brain, Healthy Life: A Personal Program to Activate Your Brain and Do Everything Better.

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Suzuki had a hunch that her academic success also contained the roots of her unhappiness. She hypothesized that she’d traded good health, friendships, and outside interests to achieve it. With this realization came the conscious decision to apply her award-winning skills to herself. And there’s a lot we can learn from her results.

It All Started with an Exercise Class

To start, Suzuki put health and wellness at the top of her list. She knew she needed to move more. What she didn’t expect was that the exercise she chose, a class called IntenSati, would change the course of her life and career.

IntenSati pairs “positive-life philosophy with a hard-core fitness regime.” Participants shout out specific empowerment phrases as they exercise. Though Suzuki found it strange at first, she also found it fun. And over time, as she saw how her body was changing, she began to see how her mind was, as well.

As a neuroscientist, she couldn’t help but wonder if the combination of exercise and positive affirmations was having an impact on her brain. That’s what led her to become a certified IntenSati instructor.

Soon she was teaching IntenSati in one of her neuroscience classes at NYU, so that she could study its impact on her students’ cognitive skills. The results were incredible and served as a positive feedback loop for her personal and professional goals. That’s when her research focus began to shift. It’s also when her life began to change.


But I’m not a Neuroscientist . . .

When Suzuki saw how her actions were helping her get fitter, were connecting her to more people, and were impacting her teaching and research in positive ways, she extended her experiments to include exercises in creativity and meditation.

It wasn’t long before she began to see the connections between all three of these areas – exercise, creativity, and meditation – and her passion for neuroscience. It also wasn’t long before she began to understand the implications of the results of her wake-up call.

And that’s where we come in. While we may not be neuroscientists, there are definitely lessons for us in Suzuki’s story. Here are the six I believe each of us can apply as we engage in the process of change.

Claim your happiness. Suzuki had a decision to make. She could recognize how unhappy she was and live with it or she could take action to change her life. To take action, she realized she’d first have to give herself permission to be happy. She’d then have to claim that happiness by taking responsibility for herself and by seeing herself as fully capable of gaining the life she wanted to live.

Run experiments. Suzuki realized that her skills in experimental design could be a game changer. Once she made the commitment to change, she decided to set up a series of experiments in her life. The first was exercise. She made a plan and then studied the impact of it. This approach helped her see it as a learning process, one that encouraged her to adapt and adjust along the way.

Expect setbacks. Along the way, Suzuki slipped in her diet and exercise plan. Because she saw these slips as a natural part of the experiment, she didn’t let them trip her up. Instead, she asked herself what was going on. Was she too tired to work out? Was she bored instead of hungry? She recognized that setbacks were an opportunity to learn. When they happened, she sought out more support, not less.

Insert hacks. Suzuki knew all about perfection. It’s what helped her achieve her career goals, but it was also what prevented her from doing anything else. To counteract her tendency to do everything perfectly, she developed workarounds, quick exercises and approaches she could tap into when her schedule got tight or when she needed to change things up.

Draw on your expertise. Suzuki’s passion for neuroscience is her sweet sport. It’s an expertise she has that she drew on as she changed. It helped reinforce and even amplify the changes she was making. It’s something we can do, as well.

Trust yourself. As Suzuki grew more in touch with herself physically, emotionally, and mentally, she gained a deeper understanding of what she enjoyed doing and the kinds of people she enjoyed being around. Over time, she made sure to incorporate more of both into her life. As a result, she became happier and she let go of what no longer served her personally or professionally.

What’s one simple happiness experiment you can run in your life?

A Creative Way to Solve Your Most Nagging Problems

Will Evans

Will Evans

Pick a nagging problem. It can be big or small. It can be personal or professional.

Choose one that’s defeated you so many times you’ve given up on ever trying to solve it.

Do you have one? Once you do, keep reading.

Doorways to Creativity

To solve your problem, let’s take a page from Mona Patel’s new book Reframe: Shift the Way You Work, Innovate, and Think. What’s refreshing about her approach is that her background in user-centered design causes her to view every problem, no matter how challenging, as an opportunity.

For Patel, problems are doorways into creativity. Continue reading

The Most Essential Skill to Spark Creativity

Jae C.

Jae C.

Brian Grazer is a successful movie and TV producer. Even if you don’t know his name, you probably know his hair. It’s iconic. Probably more iconic than Grazer himself. He wears it tall and spiky, and he’s been wearing it that way for years. Can you picture him now?

Grazer and his business partner and long-standing friend, director and former actor, Ron Howard, have garnered award after award for films like, Splash, Apollo 13, and A Beautiful Mind, as well as television shows, like 24 and Friday Night Lights. Their success in the movie and television industry is unparalleled.

While Grazer could chalk his success up to his amazing intelligence or savvy business sense, he goes a different way. He attributes it to what I think is the single the most essential skill for sparking creativity and innovative thinking. Continue reading

The Secret to Innovation? Design an Infinite Game!

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Invisible Forces II

Elizabeth Streb is on to something.

It was over 30 years ago that she first asked the question that continues to drive her work today: what does movement mean?

The approach Streb’s taken to answer that question has made her one of the most innovative voices in the dance world. And her methods may serve as a model for all of us when it comes to innovation.

In the beginning, Streb tried to answer the question all by herself. She experimented with different movements and materials and performed for any audience she could find. After deciding she needed a lab space, she created Streb Action Lab for Action Mechanics (SLAM) in 1979. In the decades that followed, Streb’s roles shifted from performer and dancer to teacher and choreographer.

The result? Through SLAM, Streb’s been able to invite audience members and performers into the conversation. It’s not only pushed her thinking, but it’s also helped her and her company to innovate on the work. Continue reading

Simple Mental Shifts You Can Make to Get Unstuck and Live Your Best Life

Mahalie Stackpole

Mahalie Stackpole

Ever feel stuck? Ever feel like you’ve got goals and dreams you just can’t realize?

If asked, you could probably rattle off a list of reasons why nothing’s happened. And, on the surface, the list might even make sense.

The only problem is that the list is wrong.

That’s because we tend to get stuck for reasons that are often invisible to us. In fact behavioral economists have shown that we often behave in ways that are far from rational. Three of those ways – ignoring sunk costs, loss aversion, and status quo bias – cost us much more than we know (check out Richard Thaler‘s book, Misbehaving to learn more). Continue reading

A Simple Tool to Help You Build and Grow High-performing Teams

woodleywonderworks

woodleywonderworks

When it comes to teams, you know it can be either the best of times or the worst of times. Either the work goes smoothly and goals are accomplished, or it’s a bumpy ride that ends in frustration and failure.

But there are quick, simple things you can do that will increase the chance that your team succeeds.

That’s why I wrote this article for MindShift. It walks you through a simple, yet powerful, exercise to ensure that the ride is more smooth than bumpy. Continue reading

9 Simple Motivators to Drive Change

Jason Rosenberg

Jason Rosenberg

A lot of life has to do with changing behaviors. Maybe we’ve done something a certain way for a while, and now we need to do it differently. Or we’re responsible for leading a change initiative, and we’ve got to get others on board.

We’re reasonable human beings, right? If we focus on what’s rational and logical, we should be able to change our own and others’ thinking. Yet if that’s the case, then why do so many change initiatives fail, even when they’re our own?

That’s a question government policy makers in the UK asked themselves several years ago, as they took stock of how little impact their policies were having in helping UK citizens lead safer and healthier lives. Continue reading