• Jeannie Lawrence MD

But First, Be Happy: Reasons High Achievers Must Prioritize Their Mental Health




THE HAPPINESS MYTH


All humans are on a quest to be happy, whether they are consciously aware of this or not. The desire to be happy drives nearly all of our actions, either directly or indirectly.


If you are like most people, you probably believe that if you do great work, you can achieve success, which in turn will make you happy.



High achievers naturally place high value on the pursuit of great work and achieving success. If you are a high achiever, you have probably been doing excellent work for most of your life, and have reaped success in the form of a nice home, career, money and prestige, as a result.


To earn your successes, you have been willing to sacrifice a lot over the years. You may have turned down social invitations to study or work late, and given up the carefreeness of your twenties to pursue advanced degrees in competitive fields. Even now, you continue to grind away as you juggle your career, family, community obligations and more. You've got the "do great work to achieve success" routine down pat.


The issue is that all of your success has not necessarily lead to the life of enduring happiness you had hoped for. You may have been temporarily excited when you graduated, or got the job, or bought your new home. But as is the case with humans, the thrill quickly wore off, and you were left still searching for the next thing that might make you excited and satisfied again. It turns out that achieving success does not necessarily lead to lasting happiness and wellbeing after all.


WHAT WENT WRONG?


While you have been in pursuit of success throughout your life, chances are your happiness and mental health have taken a backseat. You've told yourself many nights that you didn't need to sleep, because you were determined to meet a deadline for work or school. You gave up spending time with friends, convinced it was necessary to keep you focused. You may have even put off starting a family because you did not want to derail your trip to the top of your career ladder.


You ignored the signs your body was trying to give you, overriding your fatigue with venti cups of Starbucks to keep you going; distracting yourself from your sadness and worry with alcohol, food, and other ways you found to cope. You brushed aside that nagging thought that you weren't good enough or needed to do more to be worthy, convinced these beliefs were needed to keep you motivated. Even when you felt poorly, you balked at the idea of seeking care for your mental health, convinced someone as high functioning as you could not possibly need help; or worried that others would judge you if you did.


You thought it would all be worth it in the end because you'd meet your goals, fulfill your dreams and one day have the dream life that would make you happy. But it turns out that prioritizing material success to the detriment of our mental health does not lead us to the happiness and wellbeing we all crave.


THE TRUTH ABOUT HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS


In his book, The Happiness Equation, Neil Pasricha asserts that the real way to achieve success in life, is by being happy first.


It turns out that prioritizing our happiness and mental health improves our ability to do great work, which in turn leads to greater successes.




There are multiple studies to back up this claim. Researchers at the University of Oxford and University of Warwick showed that when workers are happier, they are up to 13% more productive at work. And improved productivity often translates into greater success.


I will add that when we are happier and doing well mentally, our successes become much more meaningful and enjoyable too. It's a win-win situation. There are far too many examples of extremely successful people (Robin Williams, Kate Spade to name a few) who suffered from severe depression and whose lives ended tragically with suicide. Clearly, material success does not guarantee a life of happiness.


If we do not prioritize our mental health while we pursue our dreams, we run the risk of achieving external success, and still being miserable inside, which is truly tragic.

Do what you need to for your mental health and wellbeing FIRST. Take care of your body, set healthy boundaries, maintain meaningful relationships, and take time to relax and enjoy yourself sometimes. Seek the assistance of a psychiatrist, therapist or both if needed. By prioritizing your mental health and wellbeing, you will then be better able to achieve and actually ENJOY the success you have earned, and the achievements that are still to come.


You've got this!


Dr. Jeannie