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Why career success may not bring you core happiness (and what actually does)
How many ‘successful’ people do you know who are miserable as sin? Maybe you’re one of them. Every week I hear people say things like “I know that on paper my life looks really successful, and I should feel happy, but I’m so depressed”. Could it be that career success is killing your core happiness?
‘Success’ does not make you happy unless it is in alignment with your core values, goals and needs. Getting to the top of your career ladder is unlikely to make you beam on the inside if other parts of your life – which are essential to your core happiness – are falling apart or non-existent.
So let’s talk about reasons why you might be feeling crapola and what might bring you more of that delicious core happiness, namely:
alignment, contentment and control
Is your job out of alignment with your core values?
When meeting a stranger you will often be asked “What do you do for work?” as if that defines all that you are as a person. But you are so much more than what you do for a living, right?
If your career is out of alignment with your core values, no amount of supposed success will make you happy.
Is your work-life balance out of whack?
What if things used to be great, but now there is an imbalance between time spent fulfilling your job and the rest of your life? What could you do regain a sense of balance? Are you spending enough time with your friends/family/cat?
So if career success does not bring happiness, what does?
The pursuit of happiness feels like a uniquely Western quest. Self-actualisation is at the top of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, so if you’re too busy trying to survive, the pursuit of happiness may not even be on your radar. Thankfully, for most of us in the Western world, we have access to shelter, food and healthcare, so the concept of self-actualisation is something we can focus on, usually in the realm of work. But see point A above – work is not all that you are. It’s just a part of you.
What if core happiness is a skill not a destination?
Core happiness is about making choices every single day to live a life that is congruent with your goals and values.
(Yes, I could spend time working on that blog post this weekend but my heart would burst with joy if I fed strawberries to my friend’s guinea pigs – this actually happens and it is very cute).
Core Happiness is comprised of 3 elements
In his new book “Happy mind, happy life”, Dr Rangan Chatterjee has defined happiness as a skill that you can learn.
He thinks of core happiness as a 3-legged stool, with each leg representing alignment, contentment and control. If one of the legs is under strain, or missing, then that stool is going to feel a bit wobbly.
Is your outer life in alignment with who you really are inside?
In Acceptance and Commitment Therapy language we’re talking about your values and goals. Are you living in accordance with those values and goals? Or do uncomfortable thoughts/feelings cause you to shrink away from them?
Are you able to really be yourself? Or do you feel the need to only show certain parts of yourself in order to gain love and acceptance? Can I be me and still be loved? You can read more about why we wear masks to gain acceptance here.
Do you feel at peace in life and with your decisions? Or are you people pleasing, denying your own needs and wants? (Hint: If the words ‘should, ought’ crop up that’s probably a “No”.)
Obviously, we all have to do things sometimes that we don’t want to do. But how much are your main decisions in line with your core values? Are you moving towards or away from your goals and values?
Do you have a sense of agency over your life or the decisions you have to make? The level of control you have over your life will impact your level of happiness. When we have a sense of ‘bad’ stress it’s because we have no control over our situation. Obviously, we can’t control everything about our lives. That’s not realistic. But perhaps there are small aspects you can decide on?
The search for meaning and purpose might be a consequence, not a goal, if….
Meaning and purpose are often touted as ingredients for happiness. But what if they are not the goal in itself? For example, in searching for meaning are your relationships suffering during your quest?
An alternative view is that when you are living in alignment with your core values and goals, meaning and purpose are consequences. Meaning and purpose are not the goal in itself.
What is stopping you from being happy? (hint: it’s possibly you… gasp!)
When I ask people what they want out of therapy, they’ll often say “I just want to be happy“. I usually reply “If I was a fly on the wall seeing you be ‘happy’ in your life, what would I see you doing? Who would be with?”
Nine times out of ten, people haven’t really thought of this. They just know that they’re in pain now and they want it to end. So we delve deeper…
What is the root cause of this unhappiness? A lack of intimacy in your relationship? Is your day job so far out of alignment with your personal values that you zone out in meetings?
Let’s think about alignment, contentment and control in your life.
Pleasure is not the same thing as core happiness
Sure, the pleasure of getting that pay rise might bring momentary sensation of joy, but it is not the same thing as your core happiness.
It doesn’t help that the ‘Insta-version’ of happiness is shoved down our throats every day. If you’re not holding hands with your beau on a tropical beach with tight abs (both of you), can you truly be happy? Of course, this is not true happiness. You might get a fleeting moment of pleasure seeing your washboard abs in that photo, but it’s unlikely to be a lasting sense of core happiness.
In the same vein, eating a delicious bar of Pana chocolate will bring momentary pleasure, but that too is not core happiness.
Let’s redefine success for you so that it makes you happy
Here are two questions you can mull over your morning coffee:
Q. What 3 things might make you feel happy this week?
What 3 things could you do this week that enhance your core happiness? Is it meeting up with friends? Is it movement? Or doing your passion project?
If you were to practice those things each week – would it contribute to a sense of inner happiness? e.g. If I practiced my passions (cello and flamenco) at least twice this week – would that make me happier? (Seriously for me some days it’s as small a thing as ‘getting my washing on the line before clients turn up’!)
Q. What would be the ‘happy ending’ of your life?
Imagine that you’ve lived a long and fruitful life, and that you and I are cheeky little ghosts sitting around watching your funeral, listening to your loved ones talk about the amazing things you did in your life. Your loved ones are talking about what was important to you, and what you meant to them.
- What would they say? Would they talk about your relationships and how much they felt loved by you?
- Were you of service to others? Advocating or helping others?
- What do you want to be your legacy? What do you want to have achieved by the time you leave this mortal coil? And what do you need to prioritize now in order to get to that happy ending?
Or a different way of thinking about it: If you only had 20 summers left, what would you do with each sacred summer?
So when you feel unhappy ask yourself these 3 questions
In conclusion, if you’re feeling a bit blah at the moment, it may be that one part of your life is dominating and skewing the balance. Often that’s the thing we get paid for. So consider if the quest for career success is killing your core happiness, and, most importantly, what tweaks you could make to rebalance your life.
- Where is my life out of alignment with my core values and goals?
- Why am I not at peace or feeling content?
- What control do I have over this situation?
Want to work on your core happiness with me?
Whilst I am primarily a movement/somatic psychotherapist, I’ll often bring in the core concepts of Acceptance and Committment Therapy: looking at your core values and goals, how you want to feel in your life. And, importantly, what takes you away from that (uncomfortable thoughts and avoidance strategies). If you want to know more about how I work have a look here.
You can buy Dr Rangan Chatterjee’s book “Happy Mind, Happy Life” on all good retailers. Here’s a link to Booktopia.
I hope this blog post helped you.
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