What Is the Secret to Living a Happy Life?

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "The Success Principles" by Jack Canfield. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Do you celebrate your accomplishments? Or do you wait until you reach a significant breakthrough? Why is it important to celebrate your success, no matter how small? 

It’s common to focus more on our failures than our successes. We tend to take even small successes for granted. But over time, this can diminish your self-esteem and work against your continued achievement.

In this article, you’ll learn why celebrating your success is important, as well as several techniques for how to do so.

Why Do We Focus on Failure?

There are three main reasons we tend to focus on failure rather than success:

  1. As we grew up, our family and teachers emphasized our failures. For example, your parents may have reacted to a good grade by saying, “Nice work,” but to a C or less by giving you a lecture. Or maybe your teachers marked wrong answers with a red pen rather than marking correct answers with a check mark. As adults, we may continue to emphasize our failures rather than our successes.
  2. We remember events associated with negative emotions better than those associated with positive ones. Failure produces strong negative emotions. As a result, many people think they have many fewer successes than they actually do because their memory emphasizes failures.
  3. We define success in a specific way. People tend to define success as an important life event, like graduating from college. But this definition undermines everyday successes like skipping dessert, doing laundry, or making an important phone call at work.

In some of Canfield’s seminars, he asks participants to share successes they had in the past week. Many people struggle. One participant didn’t think he’d had any success in his life. In 1979, after the Iranian shah was deposed, he moved his family from Iran to Germany, where he became a car mechanic and learned the local language. Then, he moved to the U.S., started learning English, and was working to become a welder. To him, success was living in a rich part of Los Angeles and owning a fancy car. He didn’t recognize all of the success he’d already achieved.

The Connection Between Self-Esteem and Success

Having good self-esteem is a key ingredient for success. Research shows that the more self-esteem you have, the more likely you are to take risks that can lead to success. But if you focus on your failures, you erode your self-esteem and are less likely to take risks. For example, you might see a job posting for a customer engagement associate with a local software company. You’re relatively qualified for the job, but you talk yourself out of applying because you’ve never held a similar role, and you convince yourself you wouldn’t be selected. Instead of letting self-esteem erode your confidence, actively work to celebrate your success, and use it as a tool to persevere in times of doubt or difficulty.

Activity: Celebrate Your Successes

Try these activities to celebrate your success:

  1. Identify nine major successes you’ve had. Divide your life into three equally sized chunks. For example, if you’re 30 years old, your chunks would be from 0 to 10, 11 to 20, and 21 to 30. Then, write three successes for each stage. For example, a success in the 0 to 10 group might be that you participated in your first piano recital.
  2. Write 100 ways you’ve succeeded. People usually find it easy to come up with about 30, but identifying more can be difficult. To get to 100, include small successes. Examples include saving $50 to buy your first video game, learning to ride a bike, and starting a family.
  3. Surround yourself with symbols of your success. Create a victory wall where you display symbols of your accomplishments. These might include trophies, diplomas, or thank-you cards you’ve received. You can also create a written record of your successes. Every time you succeed, log it in a notebook or on your computer. If you’re preparing for something important and feel anxious, read your log.
  4. Recount your successes in front of the mirror every day. At the end of each day, stand in front of your mirror, look yourself in the eye, and recount your successes aloud. Work through your whole day, citing successes large and small. Finally, tell yourself, “I love you.” At first, you may experience adverse reactions such as anxiety, wanting to cry, or crying. These are normal reactions when you’re not used to acknowledging yourself. They’ll diminish after a few days. Commit to doing the exercise for three months; many people do it longer.

Treat your inner child. We all have three egos—an adult ego, a parent ego, and an inner child ego. Your adult ego makes rational decisions, like going to the dentist and grocery shopping. Your parent ego tells you to do things like eating our vegetables. It can come across as critical or nurturing. Your inner child ego likes to do fun, exciting things and throws fits when its needs aren’t met. For example, if you’re complaining about having to sit at your desk and do work, that’s your inner child talking. Treat it like you would a real child—explain that you have to do the work, and thank it for its patience by rewarding it later. The reward could be dancing, buying something for yourself, or listening to music. When you reward your inner child for letting you do your work, you increase your willingness and ability to work harder.

Celebrate Your Success: Don’t Focus on Failure

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Darya Sinusoid

Darya’s love for reading started with fantasy novels (The LOTR trilogy is still her all-time-favorite). Growing up, however, she found herself transitioning to non-fiction, psychological, and self-help books. She has a degree in Psychology and a deep passion for the subject. She likes reading research-informed books that distill the workings of the human brain/mind/consciousness and thinking of ways to apply the insights to her own life. Some of her favorites include Thinking, Fast and Slow, How We Decide, and The Wisdom of the Enneagram.

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