What do people want most in life?
Some may say they want riches, some may say they want love, and still others want power. While power and love might seem very different, they all essentially represent the same thing: Success.
People want to be successful. But if you think about it even deeper, people only want to be successful because they believe that being successful will bring them one thing: happiness.
And so, in our bid to find happiness through success, we set goals. Big goals. Person A plans to run every day with the end goal of becoming trim and fit enough to make heads turn when she walks down the street. Person B wants to earn enough money so he can retire early, so he plans to take on a second job and read one entrepreneurship book a week. And so on.
The idea of setting and achieving goals in order to become successful and therefore happy is deeply entrenched in our modern day society. Do this and eventually you will have that, and when you succeed in attaining that, you will be happy.
There is nothing wrong with this idea. Certainly there is great pride and happiness when a big milestone is reached and something significant is achieved. The problem arises when people begin to believe that happiness can only be obtained at the endpoint. “I just need to get this, then I will be happy” is a debilitating symptom of our results-oriented society that urgently needs to be addressed.
That said, addressing this is an uphill task, for it is frighteningly easy to form this mindset. Why? Because we are inundated daily with the success stories of other people. Whether it is the billionaire sharing his get-rich-quick secrets on television, or the glamorous Instagram model you are following alongside thousands of other people just to ogle her outfits of the day, all we see and hear are people at the peak of their success. And so after awhile, our minds begin to see only the results and ignore the effort it took to get there in the first place. Who cares about the person who took twenty years to get good at something when there is some kid on YouTube who is better at it and getting instant fame and recognition?
Some ambitious people who have seen enough overnight successes will get inspired to chase their own dreams. They will draw up rigorous plans, and start off with a bang. For the first week or so, nothing can stop them. Their zeal is unquenchable, and they will go all out to pursue their goal. But as weeks turn into months and months turn into years, their pace slackens. They begin to introduce break days into their regime, first one, then two and so on. Before they know it, their determination has died off and so has their dream.
Why did they quit? Because they were not seeing results. In their mind, all they can see is someone else who appears to have put in either the same or a lower amount of effort than they did, but got a lot more bang for their buck. “I tried so hard, but this other person managed to improve so much more after doing just a fraction of what I did.” is a common refrain among such people.
This sort of resentment and envy is lethal to any dream or goal. It may even be lethal to your own self-confidence if you let it. But it doesn’t have to be this way.
What I have said above so far may seem like a tirade against quick-fix solutions and our addiction with results. But it is more than that: Not only will your dreams and goals never get fulfilled if you keep comparing yourself with more “talented” people, but you will never be happy too.
Think about it. If you are reading this article and there is a part of your life you are unhappy about not being more successful in, I am willing to bet that a large part of your unhappiness stems from your fixation towards more successful or “talented” people in that field.
So, what can we do? The first step is always the hardest, and this one is no different: We need to change the way we think. A paradigm shift. Specifically, we must realize that we do not have control over the results of our actions.
Let me give an example: You can practise the piano everyday, but there is no guarantee that you will become famous enough to play at your own sold-out concerts. With this specific example in mind, does it still make sense for you to believe that you can only be happy if you do get famous enough to play at your own concerts? Or, is it smarter to derive our happiness from something we can control, such as: I will be happy to play the piano everyday.
What I say above may seem obvious. Basically, I am just telling you to do what you love, right? And if you love doing it, you will naturally keep doing it, right?
Well, yes and no.
While the above understanding does apply for the activities you find enjoyable, what about the goals you set that you know are important but go against your natural tendencies? Things like exercise. Eating healthily. Not spending impulsively. Not losing your temper easily. How does one find “joy” in fighting these temptations?
Well, you find joy in the effort that you put in. The fact that you keep at it day after day. You can call it pride at your self-control or determination, I don’t care. Whatever floats your boat and keeps you holding fast to your plan. You may not be able to control how healthy or lean you get, but it doesn’t change the fact that you may have consistently kept to your exercise regime for three months. Isn’t that something to be happy about? Forget the results and focus on celebrating the effort you’ve put in.
I understand that the above piece of advice is easy to say and hard to do. It doesn’t sound logical at all. Why do something if there is no guarantee of success? If you’re thinking this way, do note that I never said that the result doesn’t matter – I only said that results shouldn’t be the source of your happiness.
Why do I say this? If you can find happiness in the process rather than the result – your success is inevitable. This sounds like a contradiction of what I said earlier about practising the piano everyday but never making it as a famous pianist, but it is not. I will try to make it clear in the next two paragraphs:
If you will only be happy if you make it as a famous pianist, then you won’t be able to practise the piano everyday until you make it as one. That is because you will give up when the going gets tough.
But, if you can find happiness in your daily piano practices, you will keep playing, and eventually you will reach a standard of piano playing that will bring you fame and fortune.
Do you get the difference? The difference lies in the person’s ability to find happiness not just in the result, but in the process. The successful runner finds her joy in running, not finishing a race. The successful pianist is successful because he enjoys playing the piano daily, and not just because he gets to play to a sold-out crowd in a well-known concert hall. It is this enjoyment of the process that gives the person the patience and perseverance to keep going. Successful people understand that while they cannot control the results of their efforts, they can still control how much effort they put in.
In short, what I have been trying to say all along in this article is this:
Most of the world believes that success will bring them happiness.
They’re wrong. Because they’ve got it backwards:
It is happiness that brings success, not the other way around. If you can be happy, you can keep going. If you can keep going, you will be successful. That is why the world is full of haves and have-nots: People who are both unsuccessful and unhappy, and people who are both successful and happy. So now that you know the secret, which of the two do you want to be?
I hope you have enjoyed reading this article – be sure to check out the other articles on the main page!