No matter what anyone says, I don’t believe there is one definition of ‘success’. Success looks and feels like different things to different people. I was reading a book the other day and it asked me to consider my definition of success. I thought about it for a few moments and then one word came into my mind: “happiness”.
Happiness is something else that looks and feels different to different people. We are all individual and unique, so there simply cannot be a one-size-fits-all definition of either.
We are surrounded by the idea that the accumulation of wealth and material objects is success. In a way, it is. Instinctively, we want to create a nice home and gather ‘things’ that make our lives easier and more comfortable. There is nothing wrong with this. In fact, it is sensible! Everybody has the right to live a comfortable life with nice things to entertain us. But, I don’t think that is the sole definition of success or happiness. And just because you don’t have the flashiest car, or the biggest TV, or the grandest house doesn’t make you, or your life, unsuccessful.
Nor does your employment or education define your success. For the longest time I compared my achievements in these areas to the achievements of others (mostly my friends) and felt as though I was coming up short. I didn’t feel on track in my career (despite spending 5 years at university), I couldn’t afford my own home, or a car that I wanted, and it left me feeling like a failure. (Comparing yourself to others is the most stupid thing you can do, which I realised when I discovered that the people I envied for their career and relationship success envied me for my freedom to travel and do as I please. Never think you can look at someone and know exactly what is going on in their lives).
Trying to tick off my achievements against the conventional blueprint of success was silly. You have to spend your life doing what you enjoy and what makes you happy – with a healthy dose of respect for others and the planet, of course!
So that leads on to the bigger question: what makes you happy?
If you don’t already know, take the time to figure it out. Look inwards and really listen to yourself. In your heart you know what makes you happy, despite the definitions of ‘happy’ we are constantly bombarded with in the media and the opinions of others. We all evolve and change, and what makes us happy at one time in life may change as we grow. This is perfectly normal and natural.
So, when I thought about my definition of success as “happiness”, I considered what happiness is to me right now:
- Being in nature, watching sunsets and looking at the moon and stars
- Spending time taking photographs of nature
- Good food
- Creativity in my writing and my cooking
- Gardening and growing things
- Being able to help the causes I support: WWF, Sea Shepherd and Friends of the Earth
- Laughing with my friends and family
- Snuggling with my cat
- Travel and adventure
- Reading books (spiritual development, health, history, you name it!)
- Having ‘me time’ and feeling peaceful
- Constantly learning new things (about myself and the world)
- Watching good TV shows and movies
If, every day, I can do some or all of these things I think I’ve had a successful day no matter what my financial, living, or relationship status may be. I may not feel happy all day every day, but if I feel happy even for some of it then that is a success. And if each day is a success, that equates to a successful life.
“Happiness is a habit. Cultivate it.” – Elbert Hubbard
Obviously, I want to keep learning, growing, evolving, expanding and achieving my dreams. But, I don’t believe ‘success’ is one specific place down the line only reached when you’ve passed certain check points or reached certain goals (ie. when I’ve written my book and it sells well I’ll be successful, or when so-and-so and I get married I can consider myself a successful girlfriend). The goal posts are always moved anyway, so if you think this way you may never reach that successful place.
Let’s simplify things a little: really, a successful life is made up of a series of successful moments, big and small, day to day. If you embrace each moment of life with courage, joy and passion – in my eyes – you are living a successful life. Be happy. Notice the beautiful world that exists around us and be a part of it.
And remember, life is full of inevitable ups and downs: ‘downs’ aren’t failures, they are just part of the evolution of life. We can chose to be happy at any point, no matter what. There is always something to be happy about: being able to watch a sunset after a crappy day at work is no small thing. You’re still alive to watch and appreciate it, and be present in that moment. Consciously choose to celebrate the little triumphs!
A successful life is made up of a series of successful moments, big and small, day to day.
I’m intrigued to hear your definition of success and happiness! Let me know in the comments below.