Why the "traditional" success model is making us sick & unhappy

motivation Jul 24, 2020




The traditional success model looks like this: 

[Work hard] + [achieve some stuff] = [Ta-daaaaaa you become magically happy]

How’s that going for everyone?

Not that well by the looks of it.

Scientifically we see study after study confirming the trend that generally most people feel a bit meh! Slightly unhappy, slightly unfulfilled, slightly lacking meaning like a 5 out to 10 in terms of happiness. 

The most recent World Happiness Report shows overall life satisfaction dropping by 6% in the United States between 2007 and 2018. 

And I can say with total confidence, having coached many elite performers who have followed the traditional success formula, that it's broken.

We are great at the working hard part, but struggle with the happy ending

I would wager you’re great at working hard? 

I would also assume that by working really hard you have some achievements?

This might be raising a family, a pay rise or some form of recognition?

So you have worked really hard + achieved some things = so what about the happy?

Did it magically appear at the end of the (work hard + achieve) rainbow?

The sad truth is that for most of us the current success model is broken

You would be amazed at how many millionaires I train who “hate” their work, have lost all direction in life, are unhappy in their relationships, continually abuse their bodies and feel 5 out of 10. 

How can this be?

According to the traditional success model, they should be the happiest people on the planet - skipping through life with a massive smile.

But on the whole, they’re not happy or healthy -  here’s why:

Before I get into the why, a quick caveat. I love ambition and also admire those who want to achieve great things. So this is not about dropping out or doing less. Nor am I suggesting material desires are bad, far from it, my message is about going for it in a big way, pushing for greatness if that’s what you desire, but doing it in such a way that leads to the true success of a healthy body, mind, relationships and achievement as the cherry on top!

The traditional success model has two major flaws

Firstly most of us are great at the work hard part. We are driven to provide for ourselves and our families.

So we get to work fueled by the dream that working hard will lead to achievement be it recognition, a family, a certain level of income or stature.

But at what cost?

This is where the formula fails:

Too few people pause for long enough to figure out what’s really important while inadvertently pushing so hard to achieve that they undermine the very things that make them happy. It's the ultimate unhappiness trap.

My very slow epiphany

10 years ago I had one of those slow epiphanies, the type that builds for years and only makes sense on a particular day.

I was unhappy, unhealthy, unmotivated and my relationships were strained. Yet I was working incredibly hard and appeared to be achieving..

Equally, I was totally confused.

Why did I feel so empty?

“Was this it?”

But I dismissed these questions because I had a foolproof plan. 

Based on the traditional success model it was simple - all I had to do was work even harder to make even more money and achieve even more stuff.


It was time to get over myself and get on with the hard work.

But at this moment something happened that was to change the course of my life.

I looked around at all those people who were more traditionally more successful than me. I wanted to see those happy faces, leading lives of pure bliss. Surely this would motivate me to push on. 

But I was shocked at what I found.

They appeared even more unhappy than me!

When I looked at these people,  I discovered broken bodies, broken minds, broken homes, addictions, problems and unhappiness. 


How could this be?

Basis the traditional success formula we should have all been blissfully happy. 

Something was majorly wrong.

So I started to dig deeper and stumbled upon another reason why the traditional success model is broken.

I'll be happy when

This is the worst sentence in the history of sentences - “I'll be happy when…”

The illusion of the traditional success formula trips us up in two major ways. Firstly it leads us to believe once we achieve enough stuff we will be happy. But there is never enough.

So you either get stuck working incredibly hard while postponing happiness for a future miracle that never comes. You look around at all those lucky people who have more stuff and assume they must be happy. I’ll be happy when I’m like them! 

So you get your head down and keep going, while your body, mind, relationships, hobbies and fun get pushed aside - because I’ll be happy when.

What if you get lucky and hit the traditional success jackpot?

In a perverse way, it can be worse for those lucky few who make it big and wait patiently in line for their happiness award and it never comes.

At this point two things happen:

They either stick with the traditional success delusion and assume they have not yet achieved enough stuff to be happy, so best get back to it, which causes more unhappiness.

Or the bottom falls out of their world at the realisation that they just sacrificed their body, mind, relationships and happiness to reach this point only to discover the happy ending was a lie!

Luckily just before I fell into one of these traps I found a way out once I realised the traditional success model was broken. I realised It’s a lose-lose catch 22.

Positive psychology and a new blueprint for true success 

But there’s hope.

Positive psychology, which is the science of wellbeing, has redefined the success model based on science and some of the brightest minds in the land.

The science flips the old worn out success formula on its head.

Brilliant researchers such as Sean Achor are paving the way to a new blueprint of success that looks like this:

True success = Create a foundation of happiness or well being first, and from this vibrant platform, you will find the bonus of achievement. 

So it's the other way round!!!!!!

You get happy first and then because you’re vibrant, energised, motivated and positive - you are much more likely to achieve those traditional success markers such as income, career advancement...

How exciting is this?

So this is now my life's work. Trying to help people optimise their happiness or well being first because this is the fountain of true success and from a platform traditional achievement is much more likely to flow!

So you can have it all - the happy vibrant healthy life and the career and do it all with a smile!

In my next blog, I will start to show you exactly how to achieve the true success mode.

A parting gift

As always I like to leave you with something of worth before I go, so today’s gift is a TED talk from the brilliant Positive Psychologist Sean Achor who explains the science behind the true happiness success formula.


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