“You can never get enough of what you don’t need to make you happy.” —Eric Hoffer
We live in a complicated world—one that has too often confused and misunderstood the entire notion of success. Along the way, we have championed, promoted, and dedicated ourselves to some unhealthy pursuits.
We have measured success in terms of financial gain. Money is a powerful motivator that controls the lives of many. It chooses occupations. It dictates how time, energy, and resources are spent. It influences relationships, schedules, and families. To some, it even becomes an all-consuming passion that leaves broken people and morality in its wake.
But financial gain is actually a poor measurement of success. Some are born into it with little personal involvement, while others are born into environments that provide little opportunity to ever achieve it. Financial gain ebbs and flows at the mercy of a global economy. And the payback from financial gain is relatively short-lived—it never satisfies our greatest desires. No matter the amount of financial success earned, it always leaves us wanting more.
Others measure and pursue success in the form of accolades or praise from others. They desire to be known, recognized, and respected. The glory of their name and how many people remember it become their greatest desire.
But the praise of men is a shockingly fickle thing upon which to measure our success. It is a foolish, ever-changing target. It often negatively impacts the decisions we make and the life we choose to live. But it never fully satisfies our hearts or our souls. Even those who have reached the pinnacle of fame and prestige in our society long for more.
One growing trend in our culture is to measure success on the basis of removing ourselves from work altogether. The 4-Hour Workweek remains one of the most successful business books of our decade. And CNN recently defined retiring before 65 as the “ultimate dream.” It seems the goal of work has become to simply earn enough reserve or residual income to remove ourselves from it entirely.
But this measure of success results in an unhealthy view of work altogether. Somewhere along the way, we lost our focus. We no longer work to benefit others, but ourselves. Work becomes selfish. Work becomes that thing through which we make enough money so that we can do the other things we really want to do instead. Work has become a four-letter word to be avoided. No wonder 70% of Americans either hate their jobs or are completely disengaged from them.
Is there a better way to measure success in our lives? I think so.
Possessing wealth does not lead to happiness, but giving it away does.
Study after study confirms this. Generous people consistently rank as happier, healthier, with higher levels of life satisfaction. When people are given a sum of money, they immediately gain more well-being if they spend it on others, rather than themselves. Generosity promotes social connection and improved relationships. When we give, we make others feel closer to us, but even more, we feel closer to them. We begin to discover significance, fulfillment, and increased passion for life.
Science and experience remind us over and over again: Success is not found in material accumulation, personal accolades, or removal from work altogether. (tweet that)
Happiness, fulfillment, and lasting success is found in our commitment to generosity—in viewing that our role in the world is to make it better for someone else.
There is no shortage of people in this world who need our help. The problem is we are often too busy to notice because we have defined success in all the wrong places.
But once we stop chasing bigger houses, faster cars, and cooler toys, we begin to notice again the needs around us.
Generous people dream big dreams for their money, time, talents, and experience. They realize that once our most basic needs are met, increased accumulation offers very little happiness. Instead, our resources can be used to make our communities safer, smarter, and more responsible. They can be used to make this world a little more pleasant for everyone.
And in this pursuit, they find true, lasting, immeasurable success.