The Two Words That Will Lead You To Success And Happiness



Seriously: Just Two Words

Seems like this should be a very short post, right?

Here’s the quick and dirty:

  • The word “yes” leads to happiness.
  • The word “no” leads to success.

Here’s why.


For Happiness Say Yes

“Yes” creates opportunity. Saying yes a lot makes more things happen.

And research shows that lots of little good things are the path to happiness. Spending money on many little pleasures beats rare big positives.

Via The Myths of Happiness: What Should Make You Happy, but Doesn’t, What Shouldn’t Make You Happy, but Does:

One researcher, for example, interviewed people of all income levels in the United Kingdom and found that those who frequently treated themselves to low-cost indulgences— picnics, extravagant cups of coffee, and treasured DVDs— were more satisfied with their lives. Other scientists have found that no-cost or low-cost activities can yield small boosts to happiness in the short term that cumulate, one step at a time, to produce a large impact on happiness in the long term.

Saying yes to activities and events keeps you busy — and studies show you’re happier when you’re busy.

The happiest people are those that are very busy but don’t feel rushed:

Who among us are the most happy? Newly published research suggests it is those fortunate folks who have little or no excess time, and yet seldom feel rushed.

So say yes to things and stay active — especially socializing, which makes us happier than almost anything else.

Having a better social life can be worth as much as an additional $131,232 a year in terms of life satisfaction.

And research shows that making more opportunities — saying yes — actually makes you luckier.

Hold on. I know what you’re thinking:

If I say yes to everything that comes down the pike, won’t more bad things happen too?

First off, I’m not telling you to say yes to armed robbery or heroin.

And studies show that as we get older we remember the good and forget the bad. So more stuff makes for happier memories.

What about regrets? Yes, we all occasionally say yes to dumb things and later regret them.

But what do you learn when you look at the things most people regret before they die?

For the most part the old saw is true: we regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did.

Want to be happier? Make “yes” your default.


For Success Say No

“No” creates focus.

I talked about this in my post about what the most successful people have in common. Warren Buffett once said:

The difference between successful people and very successful people is that very successful people say “no” to almost everything.

And that’s what gives them the time to accomplish so much.

The books Daily Rituals, Creativity and Managing With Power break down how great artists, scientists and businesspeople work.

And all three say the same thing: Those at the top of their field work obsessively and relentlessly.

Via Daily Rituals: How Artists Work

“Sooner or later,” Pritchett writes, “the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.”

Trying to do too many things is the path to mediocrity.

Want to be an expert who has put 10,000 hours into perfecting their craft? First you need 10,000 hours.

And that means saying no to a lot of other things.

Via Talent Is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else:

One factor, and only one factor, predicted how musically accomplished the students were, and that was how much they practiced.

Glenn Frey of the Eagles learned exactly that about being a great musician. How did he learn it?

By listening to Jackson Browne’s tea kettle — and with a lot of elbow grease:

Success is about doing good work — and good work takes hours and hours.  

Want to be wildly successful? Make “no” your default.


Great — But How Do I Become Both?

Saying yes to everything all the time will turn you into a very happy flake who never accomplishes much.

Saying no to everything but your work will make you a miserable, lonely expert.

So how do you say yes and no?

It all starts with “protected time” for your important work.

Make a few of your prime hours inviolate. Anything threatening them gets a “no.” Period.

Charlie Munger always kept one prime hour for his personal priorities.

Via The Idea Hunter: How to Find the Best Ideas and Make them Happen:

Charlie Munger hit upon one strategy when he was a young lawyer. He decided that whenever his legal work was not as intellectually stimulating as he’d like, “I would sell the best hour of the day to myself.” He would take otherwise billable time at the peak of his day and dedicate it to his own thinking and learning. “And only after improving my mind — only after I’d used my best hour improving myself — would I sell my time to my professional clients.”

For the vast majority of people this means waking up long before your first outside commitments begin.

My friend Cal Newport plans every minute of his day. You’re not that much of a time management ninja? No problem.

Focus on protected days instead of protected hours.

Adam Grant has days where the door is closed, the answer is no, and important work gets done.

Other days are designated for new initiatives, helping others, and the answer is yes, yes, yes.

There’s a level of trial and error to see what works for you personally but this type of deliberate split is the first step to work/life balance.


Sum Up

It’s pretty straightforward:

  • For happiness: say “yes” more.
  • For success: say “no” more.
  • And start experimenting with protected time to make sure both are getting their fair balance.

Here’s more on becoming successful and here’s more on increasing your happiness.

Putting this post together required quite a few no’s on my part — so for the rest of the day, I’m a yes-man.

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Related posts:

8 Things The World’s Most Successful People All Have In Common

Here are the things that are proven to make you happier 

How To Make Your Life Better By Sending Five Simple Emails


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