Will Success Make You Happy?

A while ago I blogged about happiness—specifically, about whether or not it’s a frill. The question drew some discussion. Maybe the topic presses some kind of button in all of us because recently, I was stopped cold when a colleague at the Carl Jung Institute asked me whether or not I could experience happiness in the absence of success.

I’m a classic example of the female entrepreneur—driven, competitive and fiercely determined to rise above my defeats. But after years of surviving recessions, the dead zone post-9/11, and the re-ordering of the marketplace we’re in now, I admit that my notions about “happiness” and “success” show a little scar tissue. 

So, is happiness possible in the absence of success? My answer: “I don’t know.”

Successful people tend to eat and sleep a sort of success mantra. Tom Peters says his most valuable one is a strong bias toward action. He’ll pay the price, high or low, to keep pressing forward toward his vision of success. I think most of us would agree that Tom’s a successful guy.

Penelope Trunk has a success fantasy that’s separate from her business reality: “My dream life is living on the farm and posting on my blog.”

It doesn’t matter what your vision of success is. It’s only important that you have one. In a culture where the organizing mythology is about self-reliance ala the American Dream, you’d damn well better have a vision of success. Without it, you’re naked.

But are success and happiness inseparable, really? The more research I do on the rising generation of young creatives, the less certain I am that our shared beliefs about success will survive another decade. 

We may be getting ready to shed our belief that success and happiness are intertwined. The economic and social realities of our lives are prying open a gap between our aspirations and our real lives. As the gap widens, people will become less satisfied with their lives—less happy. We used to fill that void by consuming things—but it seems we no longer find buying things as therapeutic as we used to.  

So I ask you…could you be happy in the absence of success?