What is success, anyway?

Our society often makes the mistake of equating success with wealth. Itís not a surprise that we do this. After all, wealth has the advantage of being measurable. When we can measure something, we can rate how weíre doing versus everyone else. We love to compete with each other.


But aside from providing us with a handy way to ìkeep up with the Jonesí,î what does the equation of success with wealth really do? Itís commonly accepted that money doesnít buy happiness. If someone is wealthy and unhappy, is he or she successful? Of course not!


Success is less about money than it is about worth. A successful person is one who looks at what he or she contributes and is satisfied with what he or she sees. Success is recognition, even if only internal (because in the end, youíre the only one whoís completely a part of your life). If youíre happy, then youíve succeeded.


Unfortunately, while American traditions hold that the pursuit of happiness is an inalienable right, happiness itself is far from guaranteed. Indeed, the pursuit of happiness can be a frustrating battle of competing priorities, high prices, and lost time. These very real costs give us the illusion that our unhappiness is caused by what we have spent along the way, to which we readily conclude that if we had fewer responsibilities, lower expenses, and more time, we would be happy. We devote much of our lives to attaining a level of financial independence at which we can at last retire and enjoy our hard-earned free time.


Yet, do you know that the average life expectancy of a retiree who doesnít take up a new challenge to occupy his or her time is about five years? Humans thrive on stimulation. We canít go from overwork to perpetual vacation. We get bored, and we die.


The secret to real happiness, therefore, is neither to have money nor to accumulate money for the future. Both of these may be useful (and up to a point, theyíre perfectly sensible), but itís much more important that you identify what it is that you like to do with your time than to find ways to free it up sooner. 


If you donít know what you want to do ñ and especially if youíre sure that whatever it is, itís not what youíre doing now ñ you probably canít just quit, but you can start to make changes that will make you happier. Start looking for other options. Sign up for some adult education classes at a community college, the kind that have a flat fee and meet once a week for a few weeks. Study languages, maybe. Or art. Or cooking. Try everything you can. Youíll know what you like when you find it.


And once you do find it, see how you can incorporate it into your life. We spend most of our lives sleeping or at work, and odds are that you need your sleep. You probably need to work to live, but you might as well be working at a job that you enjoy. Then youíll be on the road to happiness. Thatís success.

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