Are You Happy? What does happiness and success mean to you?

Dec 12, 2023

This column was published on the day my mom died, two years ago. I thought it was worthy of being revisited. 

Do you ever stop to wonder whether you’re making a success of your life? It’s a question that often drifts into my mind as I move through December.

I left my marriage of 30 years. I’m not wealthy. I don’t have a book on the New York Times bestseller’s list and people aren’t lining up to hire me to speak for crazy amounts of money. But I adore my home and I have lots of friends and family members who I love.

I wake up every morning wondering what amazing things are going to happen, and I know I am responsible for my own life and happiness. The buck stops with me.

This is about as far as I could get from the life my mom has lived. She was married to my dad for 67 years when he passed away. They had many difficult times and honestly weren’t a very good fit for life partners. But they stuck it out and were financially more than comfortable.

So, who’s had a greater level of success, my mom or me?

Normally, I don’t encourage comparing yourself to anyone else because unless you’re living in their skin, you don’t have a full picture of what’s going on. But in this case, I have a point I’m trying to illustrate.

I chose to leave my marriage not because my husband was awful or we hated each other, but because I wanted more than I seemed able to achieve staying married. I wanted to experience a greater level of happiness and a closer connection with another person.

When I stepped back into single life, it was hard to hear people gasp when they realized how long my parents had been married. Yes, it’s an amazing achievement, but for the most part those decades weren’t full of happiness. So, was it really the astounding news that people assumed it was?

I love my life and I suspect that for most of her 92 years, my mother has tolerated hers. She felt safe and appearances were more important than empowerment and risk. We each made our choice, for our own reasons. It’s not up to anyone but ourselves to judge our decisions.

I believe I’m incredibly successful because I’m happy. Surely this is the stick we should be using to measure success, rather than bank accounts, luxury cars and how much stuff you have.

If having money and possessions really makes you happy, then that’s what success looks like for you. If creativity, freedom and connection are your jam, that’s how you should measure your achievements.

But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to have large amounts of money to be happy.

I think in a strange way the pandemic has helped us realize that more and more. Connection, continual learning and an optimistic attitude contribute far more to your level of happiness than money does.

Of course, there’s nothing wrong with having a strong financial base, as long as you don’t sacrifice your happiness to achieve it. Being passionate about your work often brings money as a resulting bonus.

Today, when I asked myself if I was successful, I didn’t even pause to consider my answer. I love my life. I’m very happy. I’m successful in the areas that count most to me.

I encourage you to reassess your own feelings about success. Start by determining whether you’re happy. Don’t be too hasty about answering that question. Take your time. Happiness doesn’t mean your life is perfect. It’s about choosing to have a positive attitude and a hunger for learning about yourself and the world around you. It’s about doing things that bring you joy and a feeling of self-empowered.

If you aren’t happy, start by taking one small step towards rectifying that. Do one thing that makes you feel more content about yourself and your life.

Remember, every journey starts with a single stride.

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