In a world where it can seem like everybody on your social-media feeds is oozing wealth and glamour, racking up awards and achievements, it’s easy to feel like you should be keeping up — striving harder, performing better, achieving more.
That can be stressful. But settling for “meh” or the stagnation of a no-challenge career can also be a soul-crushing endeavor.
So in this installment of The Living Experiment, we explore our relationship with accomplishment and ambition. We challenge some assumptions about what “succeeding” entails, and we share the insights and open questions that we’re still exploring in establishing our own definitions of a life well lived.
Finally, we offer some experiments to help you experience more satisfaction and success in your own life.
What Are You Chasing?
- Our society’s definition of success often amounts to money, power, and fame. But typically we want these things in order to satisfy other, more basic desires: to feel safe; to be seen and valued; to feel connected, wanted, and loved; to learn, discover, and grow; or to feel part of some higher purpose.
- If we’re not aware of these deeper whys, our pursuit of outward success can present obstacles rather than on-ramps to our enjoyment of the people, priorities, and moments that matter most.
- This, in turn, can leave us feeling dissatisfied — and even more desperate for that next promotion, recognition, raise, or status symbol.
Trampled by Tradeoffs
- Beneath our outward pursuit of “success,” there is often an urgent desire to impress others — or at least to avoid disapproval. At base, this is an inherently human need to feel loved. But it can fuel unbridled ambition, driving us to work nights and weekends, weakening our connections with loved ones, and undermining our health. Or it can tempt us to act in ethically questionable ways, breaking our bonds of trust.
- So it’s worth asking: In your quest for social approval, do you risk trampling, trading, or undervaluing the good things already within your reach?
Not (All) About the Money
- Research suggests that the best predictors of life satisfaction are not wealth or social status, but high-quality relationships.
- Poverty is hugely stressful and works against life satisfaction. But beyond a certain annual income level (research puts it between $60,000 and $75,000 per single individual), more money does not reliably equate to greater emotional well-being.
Notice What Feels Good
- Often, when we’re busy pursuing big goals, we fail to notice the small, seemingly insignificant moments that offer us the most pleasure, meaning, and satisfaction.
- Here’s one great way to get in closer contact with the available sources of satisfaction in your life: Whenever you notice something that feels good or gratifying, give yourself permission to linger and soak it in a little longer than you normally would.
- Gradually extend your satisfaction-basking experiences. Begin seeking out microsatisfactions in every moment, every circumstance.
- The more you choose to notice satisfaction, the more of it you will experience — and the more successful you will feel as a result.
Ask yourself what you’re hungry for — more fun, creative expression, sleep, time in nature, whatever. Then find five to 10 minutes each day to create some small version of that experience as a way to practice getting more of what you want. Notice any resistance or excuses: Those are probably the same obstacles that are keeping you from enjoying satisfaction on a larger scale.
Assess something in your life that is causing you distress, irritation, or discontent. Ask yourself: “Will this still matter in a year?” Listen to the response that comes up first, and then decide what you choose to do about it.
Listen and Learn: Check out this and other episodes of The Living Experiment podcast at LivingExperiment.com. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, SoundCloud, and Stitcher.