Success and Happiness Together

Two friends are walking down a fairway after hitting their first shots. They are no pros and of course their balls chose entirely unintended flights. One on the right side of the fairway, and another far left somewhere around the trees. Well, for anyone who plays golf, this is a very common occurrence! As one of them approaches his ball, of course relieved to find it, he sees that he will need to waste a shot to get the ball back into play, possibly by hitting in a direction opposite to the hole. Only if, the ball had stopped a foot earlier or rolled a foot more, he would have had a clear shot at making it to the green. No one around, he is tempted to push the ball a bit… after all they are competing – a princely sum of 500 bucks on stake for this game… he takes his chances, kicks the ball with his feet, eyes still searching for his play partner. Just as the ball comes to rest, he sees his friend emerging from nowhere. The friend asks him instantly “found your ball?” Not sure the friend saw him moving the ball, doesn’t seem so, he just nods. Then he asks his friend, “What about you?” “Ah!” the friend says, painfully, “Got stuck under a rock, had to take a penalty drop!” “No worries” he retorts, “I took one too!” almost immediately… Still reading his expressions, mightily relieved but partly concerned – I still did cheat…

Did you notice the topic – Success and Happiness Together? Did you feel uncomfortable with the topic? What’s wrong? Should happiness come before success? I think, that’s where the dilemma and possibly the root cause of the disconnect starts. So, let’s start with the fundamental question – does success lead to happiness or happiness is the way to success?

Back to the golf story – I must admit that it is a real one. I was tempted to make it sound like any one else’s weak moment but this time I am holding my stead – I wronged. Surprisingly it makes me far more relieved than the relief I felt on eventually losing those 500 bucks. Possibly because I won’t have to carry the burden of “will I get caught”, may be also because I will not be haunted by the thought “did my friend play fair”, or plainly because I will have a freer mind (or heart as some might say such emotions play into). We all have debated the notion of means and ends justification sometime in our life and that isn’t what we are discussing about here.

I have spent countless hours analysing that golf game and my behaviour with these usual questions:

  • Did I concede that I had moved the ball because I saw a chance that I was caught?
  • Did I concede only because my friend conceded first?
  • Was winning important; would it have been different if money was not involved?
  • Did I lose because I let that single moment cloud my mind and distract me from my game?
  • Was my friend being honest all the time?
  • Is it more about competing that personal excellence?
  • Am I naturally an opportunist?
  • Should I be bothered about all this, or am I making myself more miserable by going through these unnecessary emotions?

I had generally accepted the last point as the best question to ask. Of course, I was making my already complex life gruesome by letting such frivolous thoughts bug me. Isn’t this what Buddha preached – be in the present or the Greek philosopher Euripides philosophised – don’t grieve the past. Well I had stopped worrying about all this until I saw that it’s just not me who is fighting these dilemmas. The clear wrongs (or even the grey ones) of our past are our burdens and we just can’t bury our heads in the sand hoping that the storm would pass. It is critical that we take a moment to learn our lessons and make necessary adjustments to get back to a comfortable mental state.

Most of us believe success brings happiness, but if we spend a moment thinking about it, we all get no clear answers. The question was rekindled in my mind when I read and watched an article/video about a foundation Ms. Deepika Padukone has founded – #TheLiveLoveLaughFoundation. Kudos to her and the other mature youth of today who see their human side with as much an energy as they see at the professional or fun side. Brad Hogg, the Australian cricketer, much loved and seen so jovial all the time, made a shocking revelation in his book – The Wrong ‘Un, that he considered suicide!! But to me the revelations point to a more fundamental question – is happiness a luxury today or are we all in some way misinterpreting a basic duty we have to ourselves?

In my personal experience (for once I am more comfortable taking my own example to illustrate) I have learnt that this journey is full of questions and questions alone. I have seen myself finding temporary solace in few premises, conjectures and even paradoxes, but unfortunately I am far away from an absolute right (or an absolute wrong) answer. I am no saint and I don’t see myself having the foresight to absorb all the sufferings or be detached from the material world. I have also seen myself asking some basic existential questions – is all this worth living, have I done justice to my life or even will it be better to just move on? But then I have laughed them off because I value happiness. To me the key to life is held in honest and absolute happiness.

Isn’t it paramount that we do anything because it makes us happy? Possibly some of us have not found our own definitions and triggers of happiness. We seem to be caught in a classic group think problem – if it makes the group happy, it would make me happy too. But then, some of us realise that we have wasted a significant and scarce resource in chasing outcomes that were at the best alien to us. If we add another dimension (which most of us usually do) to this – I need to do better than my nearest competitor, we have put ourselves on the path to misery.  Let’s try and see if we can use this note to elaborate. Today there are host of people who write blogs both professionally and as recreation. If you are a professional writer, you would be gauged by the impact you create and possibly be rewarded for it. but as a recreational writer, what should your triggers be? Number of views/likes/comments? Just more than all the other bloggers in my friend group. Or should it be simply the thought that I could flush/flesh one idea to some outcome? if it is former, you could be disillusioned? In the current digital clutter, it is unlikely that people, including your friends and family, would have any chance of going through the points you laboriously wrote and hence you are unlikely to see the response. But if you are pursuing the second agenda, your happiness could be instantaneous as your outcome is internal and in your control.

Many a times, we do not have such distinct differentiation. Our professional life could also seem to be passing without any impact. We could see ourselves left by the side of the ocean of humanity that just keeps throwing those occasional showers as the waves after waves of people pass by us. We seem to be left at the shore, while rest of the world seems to be enjoying the sail. Dark, discouraging and depressing, isn’t it? We have seen a host of people from seemingly successful and enviable life shock us by taking this extreme step. Robin Williams, Ernest Hemingway, Whitney Houston… the list goes on. While they sure had their friends and family reach out to them, tried their best to get the best professional help – where did it all fall short? We might never know.

What is important is that we value what we have, for it’s truly only little things that could make us happy. More often I have realised that the moments that I am happy are moments when I am myself, so fulfilled and so positive. It is important for all of us to discover them and treasure them. I have found a few of my triggers for my happiness, they are

  • Humility – as it makes me learn and learning excites me, makes me happy.
  • When I am honest – I have no burden, no anxiety, not even a need steal a few moments out of now to remind me of what I am pretending to do – makes me happy.
  • And most critically hope – it makes me patient, given me the basis to look ahead and believe that my journey of happiness will get me the success I seek.

Do we have it in us to first extract happiness from all that we do? Can our definition of success be – any journey that makes me happy…

Happy success to all of us!