Last week, a coaching colleague of mine slipped this into a conversation we were having about life: “Success doesn’t buy you happiness.” True enough. I’ve had clients who had jobs they loved and who were paid quite well, clients who had power and influence and clients who were successful in other ways—and they were burned out, confused and definitely not happy. So my friend was right about success not buying happiness.
But what does that really mean? Many have been suggesting for a long time that we redefine success—to take measurable success out of the equation (money, job title, etc.) and instead replace it with personal joy and professional fulfillment—and I’m sure most of us would agree that that would be a good thing. But in the process, may I suggest that we don’t make excuses for giving up on becoming more than we are today. Here are some helpful tips to get you back on track toward happiness.
Think like your childhood self. As children, we start out in life with audacious thoughts and outlandish dreams. Then we grow up, and it dawns on us that it’s not so easy. We get bruised—or even beaten up—by life, and we begin to question ourselves and we start to wonder what we can do that might be more “reasonable.” Like having a steady job, paying off the mortgage or taking a well-deserved vacation. Achieving reasonable goals will not provide the same satisfaction as achieving those higher standards you set for yourself way back when.
Do not adjust your expectations. I don’t know of anyone who has ever consciously made a decision to live an average life or has ever aspired to only go so far and say, “I guess I should just be happy with where I am, what I have and who I appear to be.” While success may not buy happiness, let me turn the coin over and ask, “Does failure buy us happiness?” “Does ‘adjusting our expectations’ buy us happiness?” “Does giving up on our dreams buy us happiness?” I’ve never met a person who felt like they were failing in some way who was happy. As long as you are working toward a goal, you are not failing at it.
Be honest with yourself. Though success may not buy us happiness, neither does lying to ourselves and saying that we are happy while living smaller lives than we know we are capable of. Let’s be honest with ourselves and ask who we really want to be and what we really want to do. Then, let’s commit to taking a step, however small and “insignificant” it may be, in that direction. This isn’t about beating up on ourselves; it’s about looking within and seeing how powerful, creative and capable we really are.
The bottom line is that however we define “success,” we will never be happy if we think small, give in to our fears or settle for less than what we truly want and deserve in life. We are more than that, and our happiness depends upon our recognizing that truth—and then doing something about it.
—Alan Allard, Career Coach