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Lessons for Leadership: Moving Past the Hurdles to Happiness


“Happiness doesn’t always make you feel happy. Often, happiness requires you to do things that make you feel anxious, resentful, frustrated, intimidated or irritable.” 

–Author Gretchen Rubin, The Happiness Project

Seems like a contradiction, doesn’t it? But when I think back about times when I had a breakthrough to happiness, I almost always had to go through some of those less-than-happy feelings first.

That was exactly my experience when I signed up for a coaching class recently. Everyone taking the course had the prerequisite training in a particular subject—except for me. To say I felt intimidated would be an understatement. My anxiety was mounting. What are you doing here? Why did you even sign up for this?

Despite the nerves, I completed the training. It was a lot of new information, but I gained some valuable insights that I know will be helpful for my clients. Persevering and pushing through the doubt allowed me to gain new knowledge, achieve a sense of clarity, and increase my confidence. I was genuinely happy about that! While the feeling of happiness didn’t emerge until the end of the process, it was very real.

From that perspective, I realized that happiness isn’t simply a feeling; it’s more of a destination. The journey to get there might not be easy, but the struggle along the way could be precisely what makes the results more meaningful. More happiness-inducing, if you will.

How is that idea useful for leaders?

To achieve success, leaders need to inspire their teams to innovate and disrupt the status quo despite the awkward, uncomfortable process that might be involved. (Disruption can be messy.) Let’s explore some of the emotional hurdles we might have to clear on the way to happiness in business and in life.

  1. Anxiousness

This emotion fills us with negativity and saps our energy in a split second. Think about a manager who is anxious about giving corrective feedback to one of her subordinates. If she uses that feeling as fuel to better prepare for the review, the outcome could be improved. She could also plan out her conversation, practice her statements, and think about how they will sound from the other person’s perspective. Best of all, she can remind herself that addressing the problem will clear the air and potentially lead to a better work environment for everyone on the team. While she might not be anxiety-free, she would feel happy about her increased confidence during the difficult conversation.

  1. Resentfulness

All of us can relate to this one. Maybe a parent forced you to study when you had other plans, but you admittedly felt joy when you earned an “A.” Some people might experience resentment if they are “required” to do volunteer work, although they end up loving that warm feeling they get from making a small difference in someone’s life. Personally, I grumbled loudly about going out in the bitter cold to sell Girl Scout cookies. At the end of the day, that resentment was replaced with happiness and pride when our team sold more cookies than those who stayed inside.

  1. Frustration

Sometimes we are faced with problems that just stump us. Our products have an unexplained quality problem. The matrix management we set up is complex for the team to learn. Our overhead is just too high. Whatever it is, not being able to resolve those problems can lead to major frustration. In response, we might expand our research or talk to different experts to gain some fresh perspectives. Once we identify strong solutions, our frustration evaporates while waves of happiness roll in.

  1. Intimidation

I believe all great accomplishments start with some level of intimidation. Overcoming hurdles involves telling yourself you can do it. Reminding yourself that you belong. Knowing you have earned your seat at the table. When you find the strength to move past the intimidation, happiness is often your reward. People who travel to new places and aren’t afraid to try new things are typically happier than those who let intimidation rein them in.

  1. Irritability

Bad moods are not pleasant for us or those around us. To shake that negativity and replace it with happiness, we can choose to do something productive—especially helping someone else, which may make us feel better. Or maybe irritability is just a symptom, like an alarm that reminds us to find the source of that feeling and make some changes. Whether our response is action or analysis, we’re in the driver’s seat to transform irritability into happiness.

The important thing to remember?

Happiness is a destination at the end of a sometimes-difficult journey. In most cases, it’s absolutely worth it. I realize some people might think of happiness as a “soft goal,” but I hope you’ll consider making it part of your developmental plans. When business leaders can inspire their teams to push toward success despite the hurdles, the resulting happiness can become a powerful advantage.

Has your path to happiness included some negative emotions along the way? I’d love to hear your stories.

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