As a kid growing up on a remote cattle ranch in Wyoming, it didn’t take much to make me a happy person. I loved to spend time with our animals—horses, cattle, and dogs! I was happy to do my chores and bond with my pets.
In high school, it took something different to make me a happy person. Happiness now depended on the number of people I could count as friends. Lots of friends meant I was looked upon as a success and had become popular.
Out of college, my definition of success changed again. Success was determined by the size of my paycheck and my status in the organization. Friends took on a new role and were now measured in terms of how much value they added to my network.
In my pursuit of a successful career, happiness got watered down to the itemization of things. It was now something external to be bought—like a car. Or, given—like a promotion.
Often, our success is calibrated as a return on investment by our investors, clients, and other people. Your pathetic feelings of happiness are none of their concern.
Which is fine, for a while. But if your life fundamentally sucks, it’s going to continue to suck no matter how successful you are. Here are 5 reasons success will not make you a happy person—and how you can change your mindset:
1. It Takes More Than Money To Motivate You To Do Good Work
Businesses commonly use money as a motivator, and it works—to some extent. Studies show that once an individual receives the money, however, it loses its power to motivate.
While money is important, we all want and need more than a good salary. In his book, Payoff, behavioral economist Dan Ariely argues that human motivation is very complex. He states that to motivate ourselves and others successfully, we need to provide a sense of connection and meaning. It’s important to remember, however, that meaning is not always synonymous with personal happiness.
Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose—Viktor E. Frankl
How To Make It Work For You: These are some of the things that you, as a leader, can do to harness the power of intrinsic motivation in your people. An intrinsic motive is the desire to do a good job for the sake of doing a good job:
- Recognize people as contributing members of a winning team.
- Remind them that the project is succeeding.
- Pinpoint where their contributions are making a difference.
- Celebrate successes.
- Thank people. Often.
2. If You Lose Sight Of Your Values, Your Life Will Suck
I recruited foreign spies to work for the U.S. Government. To be successful, I exploited their lack of self-awareness. The most vulnerable person was the one too lazy to go deep and prioritize their values. They lived in a shallow world and preferred to blame others rather than acknowledge how their poor values made their lives suck.
Our values are defined by what we are willing to struggle to accomplish. If something holds value for us, we will endure the pain and struggle to make it happen.
Your values define your struggles. If you want better problems, get better values—LaRae Quy.
Success is getting what you want, happiness is wanting what you get–Dale Carnegie
How To Make It Work For You: Identify the values you prioritize above everything else; those values are the ones that influence your decision-making process. Pinpoint the good values that tap into your inner core. They are the ones that will engage you with the world as it is, not how you wish it would be in the future. Bad values rely on external circumstances. You blame others if things don’t turn out the way you planned.
3. Success Is Where People Stop On Their Way To Happiness
Most of us fail over and over at something until we finally get it right. But what we forget is that those failures are the most important lessons in life. Most of us do not embrace our future failures, so we stop at where we find success because we’ve been conditioned to avoid suffering, pain, and discomfort.
We stop at success, regardless of whether that success has led us to something that provides value and meaning for us. We have it backward: instead of looking for success to make us happy, we will be successful where we find our happiness.
When you look for happiness, you need to change how you measure success and failure. Some of the best things that happen to us require effort, pain, and failure. Ask any parent, small business owner, or marathon runner.
One day, in retrospect, the years of struggle will strike you as the most beautiful—Sigmund Freud
How To Make It Work For You: Be smart about how you work harder and longer hours to be successful. Discover what brings you happiness and focus your energy on those pursuits. Then the long hours and hard work won’t matter because you’ll love what you do.
4. The Easy Path Does Not Create Strong People
All of this “be happy” shit is creating a generation who don’t understand how to overcome problems. They think an easy path is the yellow brick road to happiness.
But it is in our choices that we either decide to grow or not because it is in those choices that we learn to focus. When we do, we become mentally tough so that we can manage our emotions, thoughts, and behavior in ways that will set us up for happiness. We get to choose what matters to us based on our values.
How To Make It Work For You: Embrace what you have learned in hard times. Some people are stuck with worse problems than others and many people have overcome horrible circumstances. This was their mindset: no matter where I am in life, or my struggle, I still have the power to take responsibility and chose my next step.
5. Making Progress Is Better Than Being Successful
Most of us have worked hard to achieve a goal, only to find emptiness when we reach it. Psychologists explain this is because true happiness is less about when we reach a goal and more about how we reached it. What is most important is the progress we have made in an area of our life.
If we focus on success instead of progress, we become nothing more than a manager of our circumstances. If, however, we focus on making progress in all areas of our life, we empower ourselves to become the person we truly want to be—a person who is fulfilled and happy.
Success without fulfillment is the ultimate failure—Tony Robbins
How To Make It Work For You: Never forget that if you’re not happy with the direction your life has taken so far, you have complete control over who you can become.
- Identify an opportunity that you know is worthwhile but that you’ve been afraid to pursue, and go for it anyway.
- Brainstorm a list of 20 new ideas on ways to improve your life.
- Describe something that you will make you very happy. Be specific.
- Write down your definition of success.
- Make a list of causes you are passionate about and then get involved.
- Identify something you’ve always wanted to do but haven’t done yet.
© 2018 LaRae Quy. All rights reserved.
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For a long time, success was what I wanted. I worked long hours, got promoted again and again, and finally hit the big time – VP in a Fortune 500 company. Then I decided that since I understood the world of work, I’d start my own coaching, consulting and speaking business… then I moved overseas. For my first few years, I chased success (money, clients, recognition). It made me miserable. Here, I moved for the adventure and more time with my family and ended up online 24/7 following my own version of the Dummies Guide to Success. Only in recent months have I prioritized satisfaction and happiness over someone else pointing to me and saying “Wow. She’s a success.” I’m doing more of what makes me happy and letting the rest… rest.
What a great delve into success versus happiness! All your strategies are terrific and speak to so many of us. For me, happiness has always been linked to feeling valued in both my professional and personal life. Having meaningful relationships drives my happiness and success. I have always made decisions and taken actions based on my core values. Understanding what is non-negotiable in what each of us is willing to do or not do is critical.
Thanks so much LaRae for such a great post!
The key to this search for happiness is to be realistic in your expectations and not regard the Almighty or your personal God if you have one as a vending machine who simply provides you with what you want and need at the click of your fingers.
We were all (except for the deformed,the mentally challenged,the very stupid and the afflicted /misshapen),given 2 arms,2 legs a body and a working brain plus an equal amount of time at least on this timeline.
We may or may or may not have had the benefit of inherited wealth,connections and advantages through our parents.
Most people have not which means a choice of accepting the “hand that you are dealt” or deciding to improve matters.
About 50% of everything that happens these days is a “Black Swan ” event which cannot be quantified, insured against or engineered out of existence. Such events cannot be predicted either so we have to learn to live with them and develop the agility to cope with their effects.
Then there are things you can predict that you have to learn to live with.
Some of these are unpleasant,tiring ,boring or troublesome along with the people involved.
This leaves the more pleasant things in life which you should welcome and appreciate and never take for granted as complacency will creep in ,then boredom and then unhappiness.
To put yourself in a good and receptive frame of mind and give yourself a chance to stay that way you need to practice certain good habits and have an enabling personal philosophy based on some version of the “golden rule”(do unto others as you would wish for yourself).
These I would see as:
–Stoicism and NLP to help with the difficult times
–A sense of proportion(nothing is forever and change remains a constant)
–Planning ahead by diary management working backwards from a month hence and blocking off days or times for specific activities to the point where the diary is full with no white spaces
–Adequate sleep,exercise and sex with someone you care about and cares for you—Celibacy is for priests,nuns,”God botherers” and hermits
–Modest or zero alchohol consumption
–A tidy room and car
–Properly cooked nutritious food
–A job or business that produces sufficient money to enable you to live at least modestly and comfortably
–A supportive network
–A sense of who and what you are matched by an understanding that you have room for improvement–You are not God or some omnipotent deity who is intrinsically better than anyone else and whatever you manage to do you should not forget what you came from.
In this sense we are always 10 people when alone and 20 when someone else is in a room with us:
1)The person we really are
2)The person we would like to be
3)The person we think we are
4)The person we want others to think we are
5)The person we are capable of becoming
6)The person others who recognise our potential think we can become
7)The person we think we can become
8)The person society thinks we are
9)The person our enemies,critics and detractors think we are
10)The person we appear to be to those who have met us for the first time
–An understanding to paraphrase Clint Eastwood in all his films where the villain meets a rapid end via a .357 Magnum or high explosives “We all have to know our limitations”
–A keenness to learn–Data is doubling every 3 years(Source:University of the West of England 2016),so one needs to stay informed and read rather than watch too much mindless television
–An enabling personal philosophy that you have carefully thought through
–A recognition that all this can be the work of a lifetime for some and easily achieveable for others–Most good things come through diligent practice ,application,hard work and propitious timing whilst happiness is usually fleeting.
Amazing post, LaRae… “Life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose” An enlightening truth! I can’t agree more.
A life without purpose and goal is meaningless, no matter how much success and money we gather…
A needed post for me. Thank you so much.. 🙂 🙂
As a kid I had lots of win and won lots of trophies. Yet I was never happy because I was the only one who enjoyed any of it. My parents didn’t care, other kids didn’t really like me winning all the time, and I had a bad temper when I wasn’t perfect… which was always. It’s probably why I have problems feeling successful at anything I do; I accomplish things but it feels like it doesn’t matter.
Now, if I hit the lottery & win at least $50 million… even if I don’t feel successful I won’t care anymore. 🙂