We live in an unprecedented age. There have never been so many tools and opportunities for an individual, regardless of upbringing or wealth, to become an entrepreneur. Thanks to the internet, we have access to knowledge on any topic. You can start a company tomorrow, launch your own radio program or podcast, start a web series, or become an Instagram star. The options are limitless, but do they make success any easier or satisfying?
Research has shown us that having more options doesn’t mean that we will be happier -- although, we often think that it will. Psychologist Barry Schwartz called this notion The Paradox of Choice. When we have too many choices, it is more difficult to take action, and if we decide, we are less satisfied with our choice.
Most define their success by a series of accolades and awards. They define themselves by titles or the size of their paycheck. It is almost cliché to discuss the unhappy millionaire, the burnt out CEO and the lonely academic. Are you successful if:
- You have $10 million in the bank but are angry at the world?
- You have a family that loves you but are constantly scared that you won't have enough food to feed them?
- You are the CEO of a lucrative, publicly traded company, but don’t remember the last time you took a vacation?
No two people consider success in the same way. Yet, we talk about it in black and white -- you are either successful or you're not. It is more complex than that.
As a human behavior scientist, I travel the world to research what causes a select few to lead extraordinary and fulfilling lives. Over the course of 10 years, I have put scientific theories to the test. From my experiences, I’ve learned that there are four universal truths regarding success and happiness.
Can money buy you happiness? You probably won't expect me to say this, but the answer is yes, under specific conditions. If you don’t have enough money to feed your family, more money will increase your happiness. Once you have met all of the basic needs, money is less influential.
If you don’t have a career that pays you enough to live comfortably, you will not feel successful or content. GOBankingRates conducted a study of the 50 most populous cities in the United States to discover how much it costs to live comfortably in each. Use that number as a baseline for you.
Some may not be satisfied unless they reach their own personal ideal of wealth. Whether it’s earning $300K a year or having 10 million in the bank, know what you consider success. Remember money is not the only factor.
2. Engagement and work
People are happiest and perform their best when they are actively engaged in what they are doing. The magic question is, how do you reach that level of engagement? The answer can be found in Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s research on flow. According to Csikszentmihalyi, a person enters a flow state when they do activities that they have the skills to handle but are still challenging to complete.
To find happiness in work, the key is to have projects that take you just outside of your comfort zone.
The quality of your life is defined by the people who surround you. Negative people are not only toxic to you but to your entire community. This was proven by Christakis and Fowler, who researched the influence that our networks have on us. They found that everything from chances of obesity and smoking to the likelihood of divorce and happiness passes through our networks.
Surround yourself with positive, outgoing and supportive peers that come from diverse backgrounds. This increases your chances of experiencing the same positive outlook and opens up a wide range of opportunities.
Clocking in intense hours can seem rewarding. When that comes at the price of health and mental well-being, it dilutes your success. Stress will wreck every part of your body. Lack of sleep affects your cognitive ability and can lead to poor performance and disastrous decision-making. Sleep is also the biggest influence on happiness, so get the rest that you need.
You define your own success. There is nothing wrong with wanting a corner office or having a position where you can create an impact, but remember these four truths. They are the primary influences on your happiness.