Getting There: Is success the key to lasting happiness?

By on December 17, 2013 in Perspective, Seeking Insights with 0 Comments

getting-thereSuccess. It’s what everyone wants. The fulfilling job. A perfect relationship. In order to be successful, you need to have a sexy body, a circle of beautiful friends, and—let’s not forget—oodles of money. This may not be everyone’s ideal when the word Success flashes, but these are a few of the unspoken benchmarks we set up as a society. These images are constantly mediated to us through television shows, movies and magazines. And what’s wrong with that? Why wouldn’t we want to see images of perfect, beautiful lives?

The problem with an image of a seamlessly ideal life is that it leaves us continually dissatisfied with our own circumstances, which shrink in comparison to the projected lifestyles of the rich and famous. Moreover, one person’s concept of perfection may not fit another individual at all. We’re each different, each with our own, tailor-made success story.

Success vs. Money

Money is probably the first thing most of us think of when we envision success for ourselves. Money is power. It buys us the material possessions we desire, provides access to more exclusive sects of society and allows us the freedom to enjoy ourselves.

For some people, money flows easily into their lives. Natural entrepreneurs come up with ideas and magically turn them into cash. Great artists paint a masterpiece and sell it for thousands. For others, finances are a constant struggle, and money seems as difficult to hold onto as a slippery fish.

Best-selling author and nationally recognized speaker Iyanla Vanzant refers to Money as the acronym: My Own Natural Energy Yield. In Our Relationship with Money, she maintains that the state of our finances reflects our values and spiritual health. “Don’t complain as you pay your bills. They come after you’ve made the phone calls, worn the shoes, used the car. The bills are evidence that you have been blessed.”

Many of us have a negative relationship with money and believe that it will always be a struggle for us. We have dreams of a fulfilling life of ease, but, deep down, we don’t believe in the possibility—it’s a far-off, imagined future, definitely not an optionnow.

We may think that money must (for us) be gotten through means that are either boring or dishonest, and this creates an internal struggle. We want to do what leaves us feeling fulfilled, but we have to make money to survive. How in the world can we commit our lives to doing both?

Fear of Success vs. Fear of Failure

Most of us have a general idea of where we’d like our lives to go, but it undoubtedly involves work. The work isn’t terribly difficult if broken down into its simplest parts—its micromovements, but still, we find ourselves inactive. What’s keeping us from getting where we want to be?

When it comes to a leap of faith (i.e. spending a lot of time on a project that might not be “successful,” moving to a different city, etc.), we find ourselves paralyzed by fear. We overestimate dangers and risks and raise the stakes to life-threatening levels of anxiety.

However, many business execs will tell you that their “failures” were actually their biggest assets. Attempts that may have missed the mark become the learning experiences that lead to success. Fear of failure leads to a lack of action. We don’t write our book. Instead, we go to work, come home, and fall asleep after watching hours of TV. We feel like we’re spinning our wheels, but the imagined image of our ultimate “success” seems so far away from where we are now.

But a fear of failure isn’t the only thing that keeps us stuck. As Sark writes in The Bodacious Book of Succulence, “Procrastination can be a mask we wear to avoid being as great as we really are.” She suggests that the fear of succeeding is actually scarier than failing. What will our spouse, family and friends think? Will they abandon us if we transform into more than we are?

The truth is those who truly love us want to see us live our lives to the fullest. It might be that those close to us could feel threatened momentarily when we start making big changes, fearing that we will leave them behind, but this is not worth staying stuck. Most, if not all of our fears are just jitters. Our empowerment works to free those around us to believe in their secret wishes.

So, if we can get past our fears of failure and success, where does that leave us? How do we bridge the gap between where we are and where we want to be? This is where the work takes place.

Willingness to Endure the Un-Glamorous Moment

In The Art of Happiness, Howard C. Cutler, M.D., writes, “While some kinds of suffering are inevitable, other kinds are self-created.” The refusal to accept that some parts of life will be difficult leads to self-victimization, blaming others for our problems, and this is “a surefire recipe for a miserable life.”

Studies show that children who can wait for delayed rewards grow into more successful adults. Accomplishments entail work, usually lots of small acts of self-discipline, and these actions are not necessarily fun. If we want to lose 10 pounds, we’ll have to resist the urge to eat as we have in the past, and we’ll need to commit to an exercise regimen. While we might rather lie around, eating pizza and watching old movies, we can experience another kind of pleasure in acting in our own best interests. We empower ourselves by delaying gratification, knowing that a better, more lasting pleasure waits for us in the future.

In this way, we learn to enjoy work—that is, if we’re working toward something that we truly care about. This is why basing our goals on our real passions and talents—regardless of what others think we should want for ourselves—is so important. Only the things that actually fulfill us, activities that speak to our purpose as an individual, will allow us to have the sustained energy it will require to take constant action.

Anything worth having, like getting paid to do what you enjoy, is worth working for. Choose wisely, then roll up your sleeves and get started—one small action at a time.

“So, I’ve Gotten There. Now what?”

If we’ve set a specific goal when it comes to money or accomplishment, reaching that goal will often come with a momentary high, then a return to normal—perhaps even feelings of disappointment. We think that achieving our dreams will fix all of our discontent, make our lives consistently joyful. Isn’t that why we’re doing all this striving?

If we start making more money, we realize that it’s still not enough to satisfy us. If we finally get one of our short stories published, we’re immediately longing to write a novel. Desire, it seems, is endless, and life doesn’t stop once we reach our achievements.

In her book Yesterday, I Cried, Iylanla Vanzant affirms that healing, growing and learning never stop. “Not as long as you are breathing. This does not mean that there is always something you need to fix about yourself. Nor does it mean that there is anything wrong with you in the first place. It means that there is always something more for you to learn.”

Some of us may hear this and find ourselves feeling a little lost. There’s that big dream, our crowing achievement, a big realization that’s supposed to mark that we’ve “made it,” at last. We’ve focused all of our joy on this future event, but getting there doesn’t magically change our attitude. If “getting there” doesn’t supply the happiness that’s been eluding us, what does success really mean?

In The Art of Happiness, Cutler, through his interviews with the Dalai Lama, comes to the conclusion that, whether we are feeling happy or unhappy at any given moment often has very little to do with our absolute conditions but, rather it is a function of how we perceive our situation, how satisfied we are with what we have.

In light of this, it seems, happiness and success are two totally separate things. Sure, we might not feel as fulfilled if we don’t pursue our ambitions. People tend to regret the things they didn’t do more than the things they did, but, if happiness is what we’re in search of, the new car, our name in lights, a shiny wedding band—these things will not supply it. Happiness is an attitude, a way of getting places rather than the reward at our destination. This is why we must make every moment count, even the ones that seem devoid of passion or glory.

Look for the good in your current situation. Find opportunities to make things better, one day at a time, but don’t withhold joy until some future event arrives. When we look back on our lives and the choices we’ve made, we’re likely to find success means something completely different than when we were young. Invest in the moment. Cultivate happiness and a sense of purpose into each day. This way, you’ll get the pie in the sky as well as a string of past moments, precious as pearls.


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