We grow up believing a narrative about happiness: that it is created through success – be it academic, career, status, material possessions.
For a while it can seem true – or better said – so long as we are hungry enough to keep chasing success, we don’t really notice a lack of genuine fulfilment. But at some stage, you start to wonder why you don’t feel as good as your apparent success suggests you should.
I frequently have successful clients you complain that their lives feel empty, or they have low level depression, or they are desperately searching for something new to give them that something. Of course, success often comes with stress, and that just adds to the problem.
And, so common, is to notice that successful people do not stop for long enough to “feel” and celebrate their successes. Something in the mind says, “I’ll feel happy when …. “and they are off to the next thing. I even saw a client go through 5 years of stress to complete a PhD only to start a 2nd one within months of finishing the first.
I have had extremely wealthy clients who have been taken over by worry, aggression or “what’s it all about?”
Now, that is not to say that successful people can’t be happy – some are, but it is not because success is the cause of happiness and contentment.
The paradigm that links success to happiness is simply wrong. For example, positive psychology identified that an income of more than 75,000 USD does not add to happiness but spending quality time with friends and family does!
As does self-acceptance, gratitude, acts of kindness, slowing down your life, finding deep purpose and meaning, having more leisure time, being creative and being spiritual.
The starting point is awareness – and that means staying still for long enough to look inwards and honestly ask yourself how happy and content you are. In coaching with often use a tool for this: the wheel of life or the wheel of work, where you look at different areas of life and score them from 1 – 10. People are often shocked when they discover that after 20 years of chasing success, they are still only at 4 or 5 out of 10.
That is when it is time to really take a hard look and explore what genuinely makes you happy, what your values are, and how you need to redesign your life towards genuine sources of happiness.
Steven Lane is a personal development and transformational coach. www.transformationalcoaching.ie