The meaning of life is ultimately a mystery. But I believe the metrics most people use to judge whether they are having a ‘successful life’ are not correct.
You should not judge your life on the success of your career or the money in your pocket. Instead, the only thing that matters is whether you are happy. That is all you need to think about if you’re worried you are not leading a successful life.
Isn’t only caring about my happiness incredibly selfish?
That’s a natural response to response to such a statement, so let’s start here.
It seems selfish to only care about your own happiness. But this is only true if you’re a narcissist or sociopath.
If you are doing well, but a friend or family member is not, would this make you happy? The answer is almost certainly no, you are unhappy at the plight of those you care about.
Therefore, your happiness is contingent on the happiness of those you care about. That is why caring about your happiness as the primary goal in life is such a strong guiding principle.
What about family? Career? Hobbies? Friends?
All of these are objectives which lead towards the end goal: your happiness. They are pieces of the equation, but not the end result.
In order for these objectives to lead to happiness, you must make sure you are looking at the right metric for these objectives.
You do not judge your life on how successful you are in your career. You judge it on whether you are happy and satisfied with your career.
You do not judge your social standing on how many friends, or how many successful and influential friends you have. You judge it on how happy your friends make you and the tightness of your bond.
In both cases, the former leads to a feeling of emptiness, whereas the latter breeds contentment.
So put career success & social standing aside. Do these life objectives make you happy and contribute to your overall happiness? That’s all that matters.
Happiness breeds happiness
You cannot help others be happy if you are not happy. You cannot be happy if the people you care about are not happy.
Therefore, it’s important to focus on ensuring you’re happy, and making sure others are, too. It’s a cycle of success. Together you can ensure you, your friends and family are happy.
That’s why being a little selfish and making sure you are happy as a priority will ultimately pay dividends for the people you care about. Once your own life is full, you can spend your time making other people’s lives just as fulfilled.
Money does buy happiness
At the heart of happiness is our finances, whether we like it or not.
Tell a person who is living paycheck to paycheck, with $10,000 in debt, that a tax-free $20,000 wouldn’t make them incredibly happy. They would laugh in your face.
This person is incredibly unhappy due to their situation. Taking control of their finances would certainly increase their happiness.
When someone says “money doesn’t buy happiness” they are really saying “greedy, materialist rich people will not end up happy”. This is true. For the average person however, excess money buy’s the one thing people say money can’t buy: time.
When you are financially secure, you can use the money you have accumulated in life to take time off work, to take time on vacation, to take time to spend with your kids. Money buys freedom to do what you like; the freedom to do the things that bring you happiness.
Buying things with every penny you have, does not buy happiness. But money is a tool to bring you happiness, when used correctly.
Think long-term with your happiness goal
Certainly, the first step is to ask yourself, “am I happy right now”? If not, then you have a more immediate problem.
But at the same time, just because you are happy right now does not mean you are on the path to a life of happiness.
Sitting in your underwear all day playing video games or scrolling through social media all day may bring you short-term dopamine hits of happiness, but perhaps not a life of happiness.
Human beings need to have a sense of fulfillment in order to be ultimately happy. We need challenges and to overcome obstacles. We need to constantly learn and improve ourselves.
Going through challenges and obstacles might lead to less happiness short term, but much more happiness long-term.
Think about how you are going to be happy in life, rather than how am I going to be happy today. Happiness is a journey and a destination.
Being happy is also about preventing unhappiness
It is not just about seeking happiness, it’s about preventing unhappiness in the long term.
What are the threats to your happiness? A big one people overlook is health.
“A healthy man wants a thousand things, a sick man only wants one.” – Confucius
An unhealthy diet might not affect you today, but it might make you very unhappy in a couple decades.
Not exercising and lifting weights might not seem like a problem today, but if you develop back problems or sore knees due to lack of core strength or joint flexibility, you are sure to be unhappy later in life.
Being happy is about preventing future unhappiness, too. It worth thinking about the future and what future-you would want current-you to do!
The only metric you should care about in life is your happiness. Are you happy today, and are you working towards ensuring you will be happy in the future?
Find the things that will give you sustained, long-lasting happiness (some examples for you to get started).
Be mindful of how you really feel, and why you feel that way.
It’s not possible to feel happy all the time, but it’s very possible to lead a life full of happiness overall. If you find you are worried about your career, or your love life, or your wealth, and maybe feel lost in life, maybe it’s time to focus on the one thing that matters.
Go forth and be happy!