Jessie Gardner was promoted to director of her Internet marketing company based in San Diego when instead of feeling “completely full and happy and excited,” she felt empty. By investing all her time and effort into what she believed to be the definition of success — a title atop the corporate ladder — she’d found she disconnected from her “deepest passions and love.”

“I thought, ‘There’s something else that’s not being filled within me,’” Gardner told Medical Daily. “I’d forgotten the alternative sources of adventure, passion, romance, and creativity.”

Gardner’s co-worker Marisa Shirley felt a similar disconnect, so the two worked together to figure out what would have made them aware of this emptiness sooner; what would have prompted them to see their success at work wasn’t enough to make them truly happy? After spending what seemed like a million nights coming up with a million ideas, they landed on positive disruptions.

“A positive disruption wakes you up,” Gardner said. “It’s like, ‘Hey soul, I forgot about you there.’ The disruptions enable people to fill in the blank of what success is supposed to look like to them.”

More Americans Hate Their Job

Gardner and Shirley are but two examples of the increasing number of Americans who feel disconnected and disengaged from their work. According to a recent Gallup poll, 70 percent of employees in the United States hate their job. Studies have shown job dissatisfaction increases stroke risk, with overnight jobs and long hours in particular causing heavier drinking.

In 2012, French researchers found job “fulfillment and frustration plays a central role in the improvement or reduction of well-being at work.” Something as simple as your boss’s management style can influence productivity and motivation. And for women who hold positions of authority, a 2014 study found they’re likely to show signs of depression as they work harder to compete with their male counterparts. Men, on the other hand, have fewer symptoms of depression when they have this same authority.

“The formula is clear,” Shawn Achor, positive psychologist and author of Before Happiness and The Happiness Advantage, said, “work harder, then you'll be successful, then you'll be happier.”

Traditionally, this worked; now, maybe not. Success, Achor says, is a moving target, and as soon as the brain perceives success — from a good grade to a good job — this idea of success changes. Achor refers to this as “the goalpost of success.”

“If happiness is on the other side of success, your brain never gets there,” he said.

Happiness as an Advantage

What then if we flipped the formula? What if instead of trusting our success to make us happy, we started trusting our happiness to make us successful? In other words, we use happiness to our advantage.

“If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which [means] your brain at positive performs significantly better than it does at negative, neutral, or stressed,” Achor explained. “Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise.”

In his research, Achor has found a positive brain is 31 percent more productive than a negative, neutral, or stressed brain; employees are 37 percent better at sales; doctors are 10 percent faster and more accurate in their diagnoses. More importantly, he’s found evidence flipping the success formula works — and it improves several markers of a person’s life, from their job to their relationships. From this happy place, both job and overall life satisfaction are possible, Achor wrote for Psychology Today.

So instead of people cultivating a place for themselves on the corporate ladder for more success, it seems better to cultivate happiness instead. That's not to say hard work is pointless, or hard workers won’t reap rewards for their effort. Working toward a goal does give us purpose — but it’s important to balance this purpose with what makes us happy off the clock.

Ideas, of course, vary person to person, even from back then to now. In 1938, as we recently learned, security, knowledge, and religion were considered the most important attributes for happiness, while good humor, leisure, and security edged their way to the top in 2014. Something that might be able to make a person’s personal idea of happiness more clear: a positive disruption.

Wake Up to Happiness

It’s no surprise Gardner and Shirley founded HeySoul: a subscription box service that packs trinket items with powerful messages into a tiny box, with each item adhering to the box’s theme. Right now there are eight “themes of life that makes us come alive, but that we easily forget to nurture”: love, adventure, creativity, purpose, calm, gratitude, mind + body + soul, and joy.

The purpose box is Gardner's favorite; it “really hones in on getting in touch with the impact we are all here to make in the world.” Inside is a purpose key from The Giving Keys, flying wish paper, a dry erase marker, and a copy of 5: Where will you be five years from today? by Dan Zadra.

“It’s all about the experience,” Gardner said. “It’s always amazing how symbolic experiences are for some people.”

Purpose box
A look inside HeySoul's Purpose box. Jessie Gardner

Take the wish paper, an exercise designed to enable people to let their limitations “fly.” People write down what they need to let go of in order to bring as much positivity, and energy, and focus as they can. Then, they shape the paper into a tube, light a match to it, and watch it float away. Gardner says this “mimics within yourself you can let anything go.”

Gardner and Shirley pack curate each box among themselves. Since they both still work full-time in the marketing industry, they'll host packing parties, which includes them and a couple of friends, to fill orders. To date, HeySoul has a handful of monthly subscribers (the service launched in 2014) and it's something Gardner and Shirley hope to one day take beyond digital.

"The boxes have so much ability to facilitate personal growth experiences," Gardner said.

Short of ordering a HeySoul box, how else can people reconnect to what makes them happy? Achor recommends maintaining a gratitude journal to track at least three things you’re grateful for each day (though you don’t have to keep an actual journal). In just six months, this practice alone can raise personal rate of success, he added.

Exercise and meditation are two additional ways we can reconnect and refocus our brain and behavior on the positive, not the negative.

“If you reverse the formula, you can turn happiness into a success advantage, raising every business and educational outcome,” Achor said. “Start by doing one of these habits. And once and for all, stop yourself and others from saying, ‘I'll be happy when...’ That formula is broken. But there is a better one: happiness leads to greater success.”