There are many different factors that influence whether a person feels “successful” in life.
Let’s consider the external factors. We live in a world where relativity is a fact of life – the inevitable tendency to compare helps us define normal, exceptional and perhaps just plain “odd”. “We are wired for comparison” according to Mark Manson. Success and failure are somewhere different concepts but both frequently influenced by what others think.
Common ways of measuring success:
Financial – many people feel that success is only theirs when they hit their financial goals. Money is extremely important to them and they spend much of their life working towards that notion of “success”. Whether this healthy or not is irrelevant – it just is what they do and how they feel. It may come from parental values, from a fear of not having enough or any one of a multitude of reasons from their past. Interestingly, people who value money often report that they never feel financially sound and they are often striving for more to achieve that end.
Status – this is all about how other people see us. Status cannot exist without there being a hierarcy.. Someone has to be below us to feel successful in this realm.
Accumulation – plain gathering of “more” drives many people and the sheer fact that they own an abundance of things makes them feel successful. But do they ever stop the need to acquire? Will there always be an empty void which can only be further acquisition?
The satisfaction that we get from achieving a goal – or not?
“Society values success and there is a competitive edge to most aspects of our world” writes Chris Skellett when he describes why people can lean too much towards an achievement orientation.
Yet it is really useful to remember something about goals. The pleasure we get when we succeed at an important goal can be quite short-lived. We call this “post goal attainment positive affect”. However, when we are working towards a goal, the steps along the way often provide “pre-goal attainment positive affect. The reality is most pleasure is felt along the way – hence the term “the progress principle”.
But how does this all fit into our definition of success?
Define success internally, not externally
This phrase had a powerful impact on me. It reminded me that so very often we define success based on what other people think. (see all the above examples listed above.) If we can shift our measuring stick to one of internal values, we may well be on to something that can reduce stress, anxiety and the feeling of being continually deficient in our lives.
When we ask ourselves certain questions such as the following, we can get closer to refining the way we look at success in our own lives.
• “Would you rather be well off and work in a job you hate, or have a lower income and work in a job you love?’
• Would you rather be famous and influential for something that has little importance, or be anonymous and working on something that could make a difference to the world?”
When we truly define what is important to us, only then can we decide whether we are successful or not. Stand back and take a look at your life and decide whether there are days when you feel you are failing and ask whose measuring stick you are using? Do you see yourself as successful in other ways? Once we have this self knowledge only then can we support our clients identifying their ways of measuring success.
Jonhathan Haidt, The Happiness Hypothesis
Chris Skellett, When Happiness is not enough