How Success Keeps us from Being Happy

Being happy. That’s all that we want in life. Whether you’re the President of the United States, or a window cleaner in Manila, your ultimate goal is happiness. And yet, we often do things that do not directly make us happy.

For instance, we may want to get a higher salary, but see money as the ultimate goal — not what we can actually do with that money. This is a clear example of happiness paradox, but there are many more. A particular happiness paradox many people face is related to success. But what is it, and how do we manage this?

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A Paradox of Success

If we assume that everyone’s ultimate goal in life is to be happy, then we can also assume that if you want to become successful, you want this because you think it will make you happy.

But many people who strive for success, do not have a clear end-goal. They have not specifically defined success, and their definition of success is often different now than in the future.

Suppose you want to become a successful business person. You currently have a small business, and you think that you’ll be successful when you have 10 employees and significant revenue.

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Once you actually reach that stage of 10 employees and significant revenue, your idea of success changes. At that point in time, success is having 100 employees and 10 times as much revenue.

This is a typical Happiness Paradox; even if you reach your desired goal which should make you happy, you’ve set a new goal, which results in still being unhappy.

But we can also call this a paradox of success because since we’re shifting our definition of success, we can never actually achieve success.

Becoming Successful and Happy

How Success Keeps us from Being Happy

So how do you become both successful and happy? How do you circumvent this paradox?

There is no one easy way around this, but there are a number of steps you can take. First, you can start comparing yourself more to not where you want to go, but where you have been.

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In other words, if you compare your level of success with your success last year, you will probably get much happier than when comparing yourself to where you want to be.

Second, we must realize that success in itself does not necessarily make us happy. For instance, the end-goal could be prestige or respect from others, which can also be achieved by other means than ‘success’.

Third and last, we should try to focus more on the present. To be grateful for what we currently have, and how successful we currently are. Most of us aren’t Elon Musk or Jack Ma, but we are still successful in our own way. And that’s where happiness can come from.


Jochem Gerritsen is a Dutch entrepreneur, freelance consultant, and writer of the weekly Unrestricted newsletter. He has broad interests, ranging from startups to Chinese, and from happiness to music production — all of which he regularly writes about on his and other blogs.

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