What Makes You Successful Won’t Make You Happy

be happy every day

What are some traits that make you successful at work? Let’s go over a few things that a lot of people who’re doing well usually do:

  1. Sacrifice the present for tomorrow: People who achieve substantial goals usually spend years getting there. An athlete who wins a gold medal at the Olympics usually dedicates their whole life to the end goal of winning. 
  2. Working through pain: We’re all human beings, and human beings get hurt, physically and mentally. People who succeed usually succeed despite being hurt. They have a higher pain tolerance. They persevere.
  3. Single-minded focus: When someone has a very high aim, they give that aim almost all their attention and energy. They just do that one thing for years.

Depending on the type of person you ask, you’ll get a different response based on the above. Some people say, “That’s the only way to succeed.” And other people say, “That’s just too much.”

Whether you like it or not, the only way to achieve things that most people don’t is to do what most people never do. And some of those things are listed above. But those things will not lead to happiness. We need different traits to become happy.

Success and happiness are two different things

A lot of people assume that success leads to happiness. “If I achieve goal X, I will be happy.” That type of conditional thinking only leads to unhappiness. 

Happiness is a state of mind that only happens in the present moment. And your state of mind can be different from moment to moment. The ultimate goal of meditation is to reach a state of mind that’s consistently tranquil—free from suffering.

But success is not a state of mind. It’s a process with a beginning and an end. You set a goal, you start working on it, and you either succeed or fail. Either way, there’s a moment of reckoning. 

Happiness doesn’t have that moment. And if it does, the moment is brief. I remember when I finished grad school. Throughout the years I pursued my degree, I kept thinking, “Oh man, I can’t wait till I graduate. I will feel so much better.”

You can guess what happened. I graduated, felt great for a few days, and then went back to my default state—which was mostly restless at the time because I prioritize success over happiness.

What’s your default state of mind?

Let me ask you a few questions so we can figure out what your default state of mind is.

  • Are you working towards a big goal in your life right now? Think of getting a degree, starting a business, switching careers, aiming for a promotion, et.
  • Do you feel like today is a means towards your goal?
  • Are you looking forward to the day you achieve your goal?
  • Do you assume your life will be any different after that point?

If you answered yes more than twice, you’re like most of us who are overly focused on the future. Your default state of mind is, “I want to succeed.”

It’s not bad. Your focus on a specific goal will help you to improve your life. The opposite is to do nothing and waste your life. I never like it when people want to make you feel bad for being ambitious. The people who continuously preach that you should take it easy and not set goals should keep that to their own community of unambitious folks.

I love to set goals and work on improving my life and career. It’s what drives human improvement. But I also want to be happy along the way. Those two things are not mutually always exclusive. It requires a different focus.

Prioritizing happiness today

Look, you know what it takes to feel happy today. Just look at the source of your unhappiness, and get it out of your life. What causes unhappiness? Here’s how I rank the causes:

  1. Overthinking: The biggest cause of unhappiness is our own minds. If we can stop listening to our thoughts and focus on what’s in front of us, we instantly feel better.
  2. Being in bad shape: When you don’t work out and eat a lot of junk food, you feel bad physically. And when your body feels bad by your own doing, you also feel bad mentally. Being sick or injured is different because you can’t control that. But being in bad shape is something you do to yourself. 
  3. Dead-end career: You spend most of your time at work, and if you despise your job, it’s no wonder you don’t feel happy. I’m not the type who says you should just accept it. No, you can invest in yourself, learn new skills, and find another job or career.
  4. Toxic relationships: Some people are just not a good fit. When you try to force a relationship, no one wins. But so many people insist on “making it work” because they are afraid to be alone. So they are stuck in the middle, which is where unhappiness lives.
  5. Negative friends: Some people are annoying and negative. Being around those people is not good for your state of mind. You’d rather be rid of them than have them in your life. 

As you can see it’s not easy. We have to make some difficult choices to be happy. 

But all these choices happen in the present. And you can’t solve it by just tolerating pain. Sure, that works for achieving your goals. But not for happiness. 

If you simply take care of at least two of the things on the list above, you will instantly feel better. And the good news is that all these things are within your control. Which one will you work on first?

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