Can you answer ‘yes’ to any of these questions?
• Do you fantasise that winning the lottery will solve all your problems and make you happy?
• Do you ever get accused of never being happy with what you have got?
• When asked the question above do you inwardly smile and acknowledge this as one of your secrets behind your success?
• Do you achieve major goals and milestones and realise that they did not make you as happy as you thought they would and so set yourself another target that will make you happy?
• Have you sacrificed relationships for your career/business because business makes you happier?
• Is being listened to, respected, appreciated and understood important to you?
• When you are not being listened to, appreciated or understood do you channel your energy into your business?
• Are the external signs of success such as the car you drive, the house you live in and the places you holiday important to you?
If the answer to any of those questions is ‘yes’ than the chances are you are, like many of us, using your business partly, if not wholly, to satisfy and support your sense of self. To put it another way you may feel that the outward expressions of success reflects the value of the inner person.
I would contest that it is actually exactly the opposite.
This starts a treadmill of emotional needs that goes something like this…we start to associate what others think of us with our inner happiness. There is no surprise that this happens since most of the marketing strategies used today play on exactly this weakness in the human psyche. Why else do we spend millions on beauty, skin care and clothes unless we worry what others think of us? Add in that many employers use appraisal systems to manage their employee’s performance, which is often linked to praise, validation, respect etc. Others go further and link appraisals to pay rises and the pavlovian reactions are being well and truly ingrained.
The conditioning in society to compare oneself to another is started at school, or earlier, and continues through life.
The natural extension of this is the consumer society we now live in where many of us associate our inner happiness with the accumulation of what is technically known as “stuff.” The more stuff we can acquire, the theory goes, the happier we will be and what’s more everyone else will see how happy we are.
The reality is that as we achieve these milestones such as the bigger house and the bigger job they only keep us happy for a little while. After that it sinks in that it has not made us happy as we thought it would and we find ourselves thinking that the next one will pull off the magical trick of making us happy and so it goes on… The endless search for fulfilment and happiness in the form of stuff.
Before you start recognising yourself in this and experience an emotional reaction towards the author let me be clear. I am not advocating that you cease to reward yourself for your efforts. I am not advocating that we stop spending money on stuff and only buy essentials because the economy would never recover. I am not advocating that we cease to try and motivate our employees. I am not advocating we stop having goals, targets and milestones.
So what am I suggesting?
I am suggesting that we should take responsibility for our own happiness and not reply upon others or stuff to make us happy. Taking personal responsibility for our happiness and our behaviour can be emotionally rewarding. Ultimately it can feel like giving ourselves the key to personal freedom.
A very wise man called Chuang Tzn wrote that “Happiness is the absence of striving for happiness.”
I happen to think he is right.
Those of you that are thinking that if you were happy you would cease to strive, drive and achieve, please think again. You have fallen into the most common trap that keeps you from ever feeling happy. The notion that somehow you have to go through pain in order to achieve ultimate happiness. Actually this is the route to a lifetime of more and more pain and unhappiness. Ask yourself this… just how successful would you and your business be if you were actually happy?
Before any one starts to think I am becoming a “tree hugging hippy” let me re emphasise my view.
By all means set yourself goals, targets and milestones. By all means buy yourself stuff and accumulate wealth. Just do not rely on these to make you happy. If you are fundamentally a happy person then whether you achieve your goals and aspirations or not you will still be happy.
Go the other way and you will only measure your happiness by the stuff you have and how it compares to the other guy in the race and how much stuff he has. That’s a race you can never win.
I’ll end this with another quote to underline my central point. This time it’s from Mildred Barthel “Happiness is a conscious choice, not an automatic response.”