Happy or Successful?

This may perhaps be a generalization, because I know some people whose aim in life seems to be to be miserable all the time, but ‘everyone’ desires to be ‘happy’ and ‘most people’ desire to be successful.

And, there are some people who don’t seem to want to ‘succeed’ in life but prefer to ‘keep calm and carry on’, ‘keep their heads down’ and ‘hope for the best’.

In his book ‘Questions Are the Answers’ Allan Pease proposes a set of alternatives from which people can be asked to identify their ‘top priority’. I won’t list them here but perhaps strangely ‘happiness’ isn’t one of the options.

Instead they are usually presented by people asking “What’s your top priority?” in the context of success; “So you’ll consider yourself successful if you achieve ‘financial freedom’?” would be a typical confirmation question after a choice is made.

Different people have different ideas about what it means to be ‘successful’. Most people however look at success in financial terms – a level of disposable income that they will generate each year.

Other people consider they have succeeded if they ‘win’ something: a world championship in sport perhaps, an election, a special award, or a prize in some competition or other.

Success can also be seen as achieving a certain status. Often this is career based, but depending on society and culture it may be receipt of an ‘honour’ (such as a knighthood) or a particular position in society, maybe being recognized as an ‘elder’ or ‘wise man’ to whom people go for advice. In Western ‘celebrity culture’ it might be being considered to be on the ‘A list’ or as some other classification of ‘VIP’.

But what is the effect of achieving these successes?

What do they have to do with being happy?

There’s a clue in what I’ve just written.

Success has to be achieved, it’s the result of taking action, following a plan, reaching targets and goals and ultimately achieving the ambition and vision that you or I decided upon as our ‘success’. And of course, there are little ‘successes’ along the way as you and I achieve parts of that plan.

Success is a continuing process – a process of achievement that relies on activity – which is a ’soft’ word for ‘work’.

You and I have to do ‘work’ if we want to achieve our personal visions of success. Even the ‘A List’ celebrities have to do work, as do those in sport and those who are honoured by the state – success doesn’t come for nothing.

But happiness isn’t the same. Happiness is a state of ‘being’. You and I are happy at any particular time or we are not, but there’s no reason why you and I can’t be happy all the time – wherever we are on our path to ‘success’.

Sadly, most people when you ask “How are you?” don’t reply “happy” – they are usually “fine”, “OK” or (at the bottom of the scale before they start telling you all their ‘troubles’) “not too bad”.

Many people think that happiness also has to be achieved. They believe that achieving their ‘success’ will make them happy, but the truth is that it doesn’t work like that.

You see, the trouble is, and you and I both know this, that once we’ve achieved one ‘success’ there’s always another vison or target to go for. Successful people don’t stop looking for more success – something faster, higher, stronger or just ‘better’ than before.

Now here’s the thing.

Success will never make anyone truly ‘happy’ and sometimes the effort required to achieve that success has the opposite effect. Striving for the next goal, the next target or even just the next necessary activity on the path can often obscure the underlying happiness of being that is really always there.

That’s not to say that you and I shouldn’t desire to be successful in whatever way we choose but we mustn’t be seduced into the idea that achieving success will bring happiness.

Happiness doesn’t ‘come’ it’s already within us. All you and I have to do is BE happy, wherever we are on our road to success.

I’ve not achieved by any means all the successes I would love to achieve. But right now as I take this small step on the way I am really happy.

How about you?