Success  Can Drown Happiness

Written by: Alan Rodway

Success can drown happiness.

  1. That probably seems a highly illogical statement … but it depends on how you define success. We contend, strongly, based on the lives of so many people that success can stifle general happiness. History is littered with people who could be regarded as successful but would not declare, at the end of their lives, that they have lived a happy life. And let’s not be semantic about the term happiness. It is an inner feeling that does not need definition. It is the term success that does.
  2. Look no further than many high profile, successful business people, athletes, entertainers, inventors and others. The public reporting of their lives would indicate something less than happiness for so many of them (even removing the media tendency to overstate negative situations to gain attention). But it’s not only the high profile people this is about. It is also about us ordinary people who strive for success. The business owner, the career person, the amateur sportsperson, the hobbyist, etc. who may be striving for success at the accidental expense of their own happiness. It is important to be open to this possibility or proper reflection will not occur.
  3. Our contention is that the quest to achieve tangible goals can cause an imbalance in the approach to life itself. To succeed as a business owner or career person, to succeed in sport (including non elite sport), to have the right house(s), car(s), holidays, belongings, etc., to attain a certain physical appearance, to attain financial security, and so on, are all goals that carry high demands and pressure. Whether these goals are valid or invalid for an individual is not the point. It’s the impact on happiness of trying to achieve them that is the issue; it’s not always positive. Driven business and career people can be unhappy, even when successful. The demands on time, problems encountered, contending with staff, clients and suppliers, can all create significant stress and worry, as well as diversion from family, friends and self. Similar comments can be made for people chasing any of the goals listed above … The personal price of growing wealth, the possible downsides of improving physical appearance, the family and personal time lost in training for sporting events, etc.
  4. As coaches predominantly of people in business, it is sad to so often witness significant unhappiness, stress, feelings of inadequacy or of never ‘getting there’, even the breakdown of family and personal relationships … due partly to the demands of chasing/achieving success in business. What starts out to be a good idea at the time too often turns into a nightmare of feelings, with an absence of happiness. Yet most achieve so much along the way. And it is too simplistic to conclude that this is all about perspective;. It’s not; it’s also about what we do. The quest for success in business and careers can drown people’s happiness. It can rob them of personal time, family time, self time, think time and perspective of time itself. But it is allowed to happen and it will only change by acknowledgement and commitment to change. The old saying that no one’s epitaph has ever read “I wish I’d worked harder” is true. It’s also true that there aren’t too many epitaphs around saying “I wish I’d acquired more wealth”.
  5. It’s also not about whether success is achieved or not. It’s about what the quest for success is doing to your life. Otherwise the end can wrongly be used to justify the means. “Look what I’ve achieved” should not be used to rationalise anyone’s unhappiness … including our own, others and family.
  6. We are not suggesting that everyone goes and sits under a tree for the rest of their lives, or walks through forests, or mediates non stop. But the western world cannot put its hand up and say that we are good at making ourselves happy through our current approach to success. The facts are against us … depression, anxiety, gambling, obesity, family breakdowns, alcohol and drug abuse, even suicide. It would be drawing a long bow to suggest that the way we chase success is causing any or all of those situations, but surely there is merit in considering whether the pressure we put on ourselves (and others) to succeed is helping.
  7. There are many more examples and an encyclopedia of research we could include to support what we are raising in this article, but if you have read to this point then something is either resonating or is of interest. Therefore the best thing you can do is to ask yourself what changes you can make to how you’re leading your life that would make you and your family happier … then do it. No excuses, no over analysis … just go with your senses and do it.
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