Success and happiness

Success and happiness

Narendra M Apte

Common perception is that when one is successful, when one has access to all facilities then one can be happy. On the other hand, philosophy offers many explanations for absence of happiness in one’s life even when material comforts are available and when there is no physical suffering.

Why is success so important in human life? Why is it that many of us do not recognize that there is a cost to be paid for success and that such cost may deprive us of real happiness?

Success in examination, when one is a student, success in securing a good job, success in form of having a healthy and happy family and happy friends- these are many facets of success in conventional terms. But basic question remains unanswered: what exactly do we get from pursuit of success?

Are happiness and success interrelated? Is a success story an invisible mask concealing realities? Mere pursuit of success and monetary gains which may follow success has often been associated with mental fatigue and stress, and consequent loss of peace in our daily life.

Does one’s happiness increase after achieving success? Have activities related to achieving success become marketable commodities? Hundreds of books as well as audio and video CDs are available on subject of success, failure, happiness, satisfaction and so on. There are workshops, seminars, and inspirational speeches for all those who wish to achieve success as also for those who seek happiness in life.

How do we measure success and failure? Why are we scared of failure? Do we always wish to buy failure at a discount? Is failure such a bad thing? Is failure something to be worried about? Related to this question is the more relevant question: do we make an unbiased analysis of success or do we get so carried away by success and forget that success is one step towards a goal?

Frank Sonnenberg, an American author of many books, and an acclaimed ‘Thought Leader’ says that there is always a gap between success and happiness. He underscores the fact that striving for material abundance won’t create lasting happiness as much as leading a meaningful life will.

Sonnenberg has made a very interesting comparison between groups of individuals, who seek real happiness from whatever they do, with those who are not really happy because they are what he calls ‘success seekers’ and not ‘happiness hunters’.

According to Sonnenberg, driving factors for success seekers and happiness hunters are different. Whereas a success seeker will normally work for monetary terms, happiness hunter will be more than willing to work for real happiness that is not dependent on how much wealth one has.

A happiness hunter will make efforts to seek satisfaction in whatever he does but a success seeker will be spending his time and energy to compete with his office colleagues, with consequent adverse effect on his career and even family life. A happiness hunter will be genuinely concerned about building lasting relationships with friends and families.

Thinking among developed and developing countries is that happiness and wealth creation go together; hence, higher the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), more the happiness. But for first time, the little Himalayan Kingdom of Bhutan compelled the world of development economists to reconsider relationship between wealth and happiness when in 1972 Bhutan's then King Jigme Singye Wangchuck declared that GDP was not a meaningful measurement for wellbeing, and said that Bhutan should instead look at Gross National Happiness (GNH).

What started as a loose philosophy about how the country should develop became more concrete over the following decades, until 2008 when GNH was formally enshrined in Bhutan’s constitution. Along with the creation of the GNH Centre and a GNH Index, this philosophy became a formal guiding hand for the government and its policy development.

Acceptance of GNH index, instead of GDP figures, as a measure of wellbeing, has a huge potential to change the way we live.

(Narendra M Apte, a qualified Chartered Accountant, is a freelancer.)