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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Author of “Mental Toughness for Women Leaders: 52 Tips To Recognize and Utilize Your Greatest Strengths” 

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