I have always been obsessed with successful people. I constantly read about the processes, habits, philosophies, behaviors, histories, and influences of those who have managed to accomplish great things. Not only do I find it motivating, but by understanding how and why successful people do what they do, I pick up tools and ideas that I can use to improve my own life. As I researched over the years, I came to realize that success has many different definitions depending on who you ask. So what is success?
The dictionary defines success as the accomplishment of one’s goal; the desired result of an attempt; or one that succeeds. Pop culture would have you think the success is all about money, fame, and power. The numerous stories of unfulfilled lives and burnout among so called “successful people” shows however that success is not solely about achievement or possessions.
A great recent example is provided by Arianna Huffington. In 2007, she was on top of the world. Fabulously wealthy, celebrated as one of the world’s most influential women, and cofounder and Editor-in-Chief of the Huffington Post. A shining example of success! However, in April of that year Arianna collapsed from exhaustion. She spent the next few months going from doctor to doctor and wondered is this really what success feels like? In her own words, “In terms of the traditional measures of success, which focus on money and power, I was very successful. But I was not living a successful life by any sane definition of success.”
As Arianna figured out, and many others before and after her have as well, success in life is more than money and power. It is defined by your actions and how you live your life.
What is needed to succeed in life?
I have spent the past few years figuring out what exactly is a successful life. Research in psychology has shown there are six essential aspects of happiness in life:
- Physical Health: You need to be physically healthy to have the energy to engage in life. If you don’t have a baseline of health you can’t function and can’t be successful.
- Mental Fitness: You need to be continuously engaging your mind. Learning and growing, experiencing new ideas, getting better, pursuing mastery, and putting your ideas to work to accomplish your goals.
- Emotional Health: You need to be self-aware emotionally, feel good about yourself, and have a positive self-image. If you are depressed to the point where you can’t function you can’t be successful.
- Social Health: You need positive relationships in your life and people that love and support you. You have friends and loved ones that you trust, that make you a better person, and inspire you to be better. There are people you can call at any time of the night if you have a big problem. Humans are social, if you don’t have people you care about and that care about you can’t be successful.
- Purpose / Meaning / Spiritual Health: You make a positive impact in others’ lives, giving meaning and purpose to your work and daily life. This keeps you focused and inspires you to overcome the day to day struggles and setbacks that are a part of everyone’s life.
- Material Wealth: There is a basic level of food, shelter, and clothing that all people need and that is paid for through money. If you are too poor or have too much stress from struggling financially you can’t be successful.
You can function and be happy in the short term without all of these elements but in the long term if you are missing one of them it is unsustainable and you will become miserable. By definition, something will have to change in your life for you to go on.
Emotions are how your subconscious communicates with yourself, they are one of the reasons humans are so resilient. If you are unhappy, it is your body’s way of telling you something is wrong with your life and you should do something about it.
What is Success?
My hypothesis is that success is the drive for long term sustainable happiness.
In the short term, you can find happiness from all sorts of different things: work, partying, small-wins, YouTube, TV, money, Facebook-likes, alcohol, shopping, movies, etc.
In the long term, if you do not have the above 6 essentials you will not feel happy or successful. Only you can know if you are truly successful or not, and that is only the case if you are on the path to happiness over the long term.
Going forward, my writing will focus on how to achieve success across each of the different essential parts of life, and how by building good habits and processes for each you can achieve success and long term sustainable happiness.
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