The most accomplished people aren't always the happiest: What to do about it

People often try to answer one of life's biggest questions — how to be truly happy — with accomplishments in business, status or wealth. However, research shows accomplishment and intelligence cannot predict happiness, according to Raj Raghunathan, author of If You're So Smart, Why Aren't You Happy?.

In his book, Mr. Raghunathan sets out to find why some of the brightest and most successful individuals are so unhappy.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Mr. Raghunathan shared some of his findings on what makes people happy, why successful people have trouble finding happiness and what they can do about it. Here are the key takeaways.

1. After the basic necessities have been met, happiness is a factor of autonomy, belonging, mastery and worldview, according to Mr. Raghunathan. People must have the ability to make their own decisions, have meaningful relationships, be good at their daily jobs and have a positive outlook.

2. For business-minded people, the need to be the "best" may be an obstacle to happiness. Successful business people often have a strong desire for mastery. However, those who seek mastery and do not find happiness may not be taking the right approach, according to Mr. Raghunathan. People who want to be the "best" judge and measure themselves against arbitrary measures, such as number of awards received or salary. However, once a person receives a raise, the happiness associated with that raise eventually wears off, and keeping happy in that fashion can be unsustainable.

3. Instead, people should focus on what they enjoy and what they are good at. Rather than comparing yourself to others, Mr. Raghunathan suggests zeroing in on what you enjoy and what makes you happy. After doing so, mastery — and its associated perks like power and money — are likely to follow.

4. Viewing the world as abundant, not scarce, is also important. A scarcity worldview sees a win as someone else's loss. An abundance approach sees room for everyone to win, according to Mr. Raghunathan. While there is certainly a time and a place for a scarcity worldview, people searching for happiness should try to adopt the other view. "I think that as intelligent beings we need to recognize that some of the vestiges of our evolutionary tendencies might be holding us back," he told The Atlantic.

5. The business world can harmonize with an abundance approach. Though businesses seem to operate in a scarcity world — there can, after all, only be one CEO of a company — individuals must find that intrinsic motivator and passion, according to Mr. Raghunathan. Even as businesses push for corporate social responsibility, we still often measure personal business success on extrinsic factors like wealth and status. "Simon Sinek, in one of his books, makes the argument that businesses and the rules by which businesses operate are structured along the lines of how the military used to operate — very hierarchical and scarcity-oriented," Mr. Raghunathan told The Atlantic. "But he talks about how, actually, if you look a little bit deeper into the best leaders in the military, they tend not to be that way."

Read the full interview here.


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