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3 Reasons Why Success Doesn’t Equal Happiness? (With Examples)

by Hugo

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Here is a tricky question for you: does success equal happiness? Most people would say yes, and they are not entirely wrong. However, this does not mean that success and happiness are mutually exclusive.

You can still be successful while being profoundly unhappy. There are plenty of examples that we’ll discuss in this article. However, the opposite is also true. There are people that have never reached much success, but are happier than those who have.

Confused? This article will help you discover that achieving happiness is not entirely dependent on success. It will help you differentiate between success and happiness, how they are related to each other, and which one is more important in the long run.

Is there a link between success and happiness?

A quick Google search defines success as “a favorable or desirable outcome”, and happiness as “a state of well-being and contentment that is brought about by a pleasurable or satisfying experience”.

Looking at the definitions, we can conclude that success and happiness are closely linked to one other. When life rules in our favor, pleasurable feelings like happiness often follow.

This is just a blanket statement in an attempt to define a word, though. In truth, success and happiness mean different things to everybody. They are subjective.

This is why not everyone feels happy after achieving success. In fact, there are people that have achieved success in every sense of the word but still find themselves to be unhappy. They still feel like something is missing in their lives.

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Examples of how success does not necessarily lead to happiness

There are a lot of well-known, highly respected, and beloved people that, on the outside, seem to have it all.

From historical figures like Abraham Lincoln and Winston Churchill to the more contemporary examples below, these celebrities and their stories prove that being successful ultimately does not matter when it comes to being happy.

1. Jim Carrey

Jim Carrey has been extremely successful with comedies that are still quoted to this day. His more serious endeavors have also received numerous accolades.

Yet, he struggles with depression. He is unashamed to admit that he has to take antidepressants. It’s a good example of how success does not necessarily equal happiness.

2. Kurt Cobain

Kurt Cobain is still one of – if not the – biggest name in grunge music, even years after his passing. With Nirvana, he reached a level of success that only a handful of music bands ever get to reach.

Yet, he suffered from depression up to the moment he committed suicide.

In his case, the gap between success and happiness was surely widened by his drug use. Nonetheless, this is still a powerful example of how success doesn’t always equal happiness.

Here’s an interesting video of an interview I found with Kurt Cobain while researching this topic:

3. Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin was the second man to walk on the moon. He has objectively achieved the same level of success as his teammate Neil Armstrong.

However, he has reportedly felt unfulfilled after going back home to Earth. He turned to alcohol to find a sense of fulfillment. It led to failed marriages and a long battle with depression and alcoholism, which he has since overcome.

3 reasons why success doesn’t lead to happiness

Now that we know that success doesn’t always equal happiness, let’s go one step further. We want to find out why people still feel miserable even after achieving success.

What is the common denominator in the examples discussed in this article? What makes a person unhappy despite many successes? Here are three reasons why success does not lead to happiness:

1. Your success is not necessarily what you are passionate about

What is your purpose in life?

Have you ever thought about what your purpose in life is, and how that compares to your measure of success?

If you want to be both successful and happy, it’s important that your success matches the things that you are passionate about. If this is not the case, then you might end up successful but unhappy.

Here’s a funny example: think of a 22-year-old banker who earns $120k per year, straight out of college. That sure sounds successful, right?

But what if that person actually doesn’t like it all that much, and would much rather pursue a career in DJ-ing?

This is actually a real-life example.

If you don’t follow your purpose or work on the things you’re passionate about, chances are that you’ll end up successful and unhappy.

Or worse, you’ll end up both unsuccessful and unhappy.

2. Constantly working towards future success might limit your short-term happiness

Happiness is not only found at the end of the journey. If we focus only on the end goal, we may forget to be happy along the way.

Short-term happiness is equally as important as long-term happiness. One might say it even accumulates and affects long-term happiness. When we fail to appreciate what makes us happy in the present moment, we eventually get bogged down from working on our goals. We may even begin to resent those goals.

3. Your priorities in life can change

Another thing to consider is that while in pursuit of success, our priorities can shift.

Life does not follow a rigid timeline. A lot can happen while we work on our goals. What you want to achieve in your five-year plan may not be as important anymore five years later.

Some people have families in the interim, and things like these tend to shuffle your priorities in life a little!

For example, a CEO at the top of his career might find respite not in his successful job, but rather in raising his young children. If he continues to be successful in his job, he might ultimately feel less happy since he really wanted to spend time with his children.

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Wrapping up

Philosopher and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer once said:

“Success is not the key to happiness; happiness is the key to success.”

Albert Schweitzer

But maybe it is more appropriate to say that achieving happiness is in itself already a form of success. I hope this article has given you something to think about when you’re thinking about what success means to you.

Did I miss something, or do you want to share your own experiences on chasing success vs chasing happiness? I’d love to know in the comments below!

Hugo Huijer AuthorLinkedIn Logo

Founder of Tracking Happiness, with over 100 interviews and a focus on practical advice, our content extends beyond happiness tracking. Hailing from the Netherlands, I’m a skateboarding enthusiast, marathon runner, and a dedicated data junkie, tracking my happiness for over a decade.

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