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Conscious Questions: What is Success?

Each article in our ‘Conscious Questions’ series focuses on a particular question that you can ask yourself to increase your levels of success, happiness, and fulfillment. By consciously asking yourself transformative questions that are geared towards inner exploration and problem-solving, you will be able to get in touch with your untapped creative resources and find innovative ways to get more out of life. Each and every question that we present is uniquely designed to bring more blissful understanding into your life. In this article, we look at the question ‘What is Success?

The American Way:

In America, there is a standard approach to living that greatly limits the amount of happiness citizens enjoy throughout their lives. Instead of savoring this wonderful gift that we call life, all too many of us scurry from one point to the next in hopes of creating a Disney-like fairytale that never seems to come. Most Americans believe that if they are successful enough, then they will be given the keys to the kingdom of their dreams. Yet, it is these very same people who haven’t truly examined and determined what success should mean.

If you were to ask any individual citizen in the United States, ‘What is Success?’, they most likely would tell you that it is based upon material acquisition, social status, and financial well-being. After graduating from universities across the nation, with these beliefs etched into their minds, the young men and women of this great country embark on an oftentimes 50-year journey that is built around 40-hour workweeks. Upon completing their quest for success, they are then rewarded with the gift of spending the remaining 10 to 20 years of their lives, with deteriorating health, in retirement.

The societal features of social conditioning, advertisement, and ignorance about the reality of life are the culprits that rob Western citizens of finding the happiness, contentment, and fulfillment that they seek. The truth is that financial wealth, material possessions, and social status will never bring us what we desire at the deepest level of our beings. Instead of falling into the lifelong trap of chasing external ‘successes’, each of us can be better off by actually redefining what success is.

Over-Worked & Under-Lived:

Unless you are willing to take the time to personally define what success is for yourself, you will continue to be victimized by faulty societal beliefs. There isn’t much denying the fact that all human beings share the primary objective of finding happiness and fulfillment, but the strategy of chasing success, in hopes of finding these elusive states, will never be capable of satisfying your most intimate desire. For all too many Americans, the sad reality is that they will spend their entire lives chasing bigger paychecks, more status amongst their peers, better material possessions, and newer relationships, all because advertisements and popular culture ignorantly tell us that these are the things that will bring us happiness.

The unfortunate truth is, that as individuals, we come to falsely believe that success will lead us to happiness.

A stressed business woman is shown looking at her laptop with her head in her hands. Has she defined what success is?

When you look at various statistics and facts about working-class Americans, it becomes clear to see why people are generally unsatisfied with their lives. It is estimated that 80% of U.S. citizens are unhappy with their jobs, yet the average Joe works close to 100,000 hours during their lifetime. When you add this staggering amount of time spent working with the inevitable hours your spend sleeping, eating, and doing choirs, you have to begin to wonder if we are really living at all.

The truth of the matter is that we were only given one chance at the game of life, and when we play it solely focused on success and consumption, we greatly limit the amount of enjoyment we can get out of it. By asking yourself the conscious question ‘What is success?’, you will be able to realign your priorities so that you can make your limited hours on this earth as meaningful as possible.

Ignorance & The Reality of Impermanence:

It was during a time period called the Axial Age when some of history’s most intellectual and philosophical thinkers collectively shifted humanity’s greater perspective towards transcendence, personal responsibility, and human values. From 800 B.C.E. to 200 B.C.E., there were positive societal transformations taking place in every corner of the world. Thanks in large part to the likes of Socrates, Lao Tzu, Confucius, and the Buddha, humans were given access to deep philosophical truths that had remained a mystery before. The Buddha, in particular, supplied the world with indispensable knowledge about the reality of human existence, ignorance, and impermanence. Unfortunately, like most other Axial Age influencers, his teachings are continuously discounted in favor of an unquenchable thirst for prosperity, status, and wealth.

In regard to success, material acquisition, social status, and financial wealth, The Buddha told us that humans remain unable to find the fulfillment that we seek because we remain ignorant of the impermanent nature of reality. The truth is that each of us will eventually perish and the material wealth that we have accumulated will inevitably vanish. By allowing your happiness to be determined by your perceived levels of success, you ensure that you will never find what you truly want.

Since everything in this world is in a state of constant transformation, there is no possibility of finding fulfillment through the means of success. The warm and fuzzy feelings that you get from a job promotion or pay raise always subside and leave you desiring more. The excitement that someone gets after purchasing a new house or boat similarly wains after a few months. And becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company makes you feel euphoric initially, but leaves you stressfully depleted after only a couple of years.

If you really analyze your situation, you will come to realize that the realities of impermanence and ignorance make it impossible to use the vehicle of ‘success’ to take you toward the things that really matter.

What is Success?:

So, what actually is success? It is important to note that the point we are trying to make is not that hard work, financial stability, material wealth, and social status are bad in and of themselves, but that you will never be able to find fulfillment by basing your happiness on these things. In the simplest of terms, thinking that success will lead to happiness is wrong, and for this reason, we need to define it differently. In our estimation, true success should be based on the amount of happiness, contentment, compassion, and fulfillment that one has in their life. Ask yourself this question: Would you rather be a hotshot CEO who has great financial and social success but is rundown, stressed, and miserable inside, or would you rather be a modest shop clerk that finds enjoyment in spending time with their family and truly loves each day for what it is?

Remember that true success doesn’t lead to happiness, but that true success is happiness.

A smiling couple sits on the side of a river laughing with a sparkler. What is Success to them?

By taking the time to internally ask yourself the question ‘What is Success?’, you can undoubtedly gain clarity about what is important in life. At the deepest level of your being, the things that you desire are much different than the fancy job title, million-dollar yacht, and supermodel wife or husband. We hope that you make a commitment to challenge yourself over the coming weeks by asking yourself ‘What is Success?’ on a daily basis before creating your own personalized definition. To help initiate a shift in your ideas about success, we will leave you with a number of life aspects that we believe lead to true success:

  • Discovering Who You Really Are: Financial well-being, social status, and material acquisition are very much the desires of the ego. Beyond this facet of yourself, however, there is a luminous part of your being that is your true self, and spiritual sages have shed light on this truth well before the idea of success was even conceptualized. You can begin the process of connecting to your truest nature through the process of meditation and internal exploration.
  • Meaningful Relationships: It is estimated that the divorce rate for couples in which a spouse works over 10 hours a day is twice as high as the average rate. Relationships are a vital part of life that should be cherished, nurtured, and prioritized. It is certain that the happiness and enjoyment that you can get out of both intimate and non-intimate relationships is much greater than any type of external success will supply you with.
  • Doing What You Truly Love: There is no getting around the fact that work is a very real part of life. Since most of us will spend over 10 whole years of our lives working, it is imperative that we do something that we truly love. The life benefits that you can receive from transitioning to a career that you enjoy will easily outweigh the fear and difficulty that comes with making such a move.
  • Choosing Experiences Over Material Possessions: Regardless of your financial position, you should focus on creating experiences that you will remember for your entire life. If you are struggling to make a decision about paying for an experience or a possession, you can ask yourself a question such as this: When I am on my deathbed, would I be more likely to remember a new iPhone or the skydiving trip I took with three good friends?
  • Making a Difference in the Lives of Others: There has recently been important scientific evidence that shows how compassion is at least as beneficial for the doer of an act as it is for the receiver. You should strive to find the time to make a difference in the lives of both loved ones and strangers, as this will make you feel more connected to the world around you and move you closer to fulfilling your deepest desires.


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