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Success Addicts: How Do You Prioritize Your Happiness?

By: Bridgette W. Gottwald, LPC, NCC 

“The pursuit of achievement distracts from the deeply ordinary activities and relationships that make life meaningful.”

The Relentless Pursuit of Booze

The relentless pursuit of booze – this title likely makes you think about a depressing story of an alcoholic amidst a downward spiral. With alcoholism, physical dependency keeps a person “committed to their vice” even though it takes away their happiness. However, drinking is a “relationship, not an activity.” 

Caroline Knapp, the author of Drinking: A Love Story, describes alcoholism in her memoir: 

 “It happened this way. I fell in love and then because the love was ruining everything I cared about, I had to fall out.” 

The Relentless Pursuit of Success

Now, this seems like the title of an inspiring story, right? Maybe, but also maybe not. It very well could end up being a story of “someone who’s never-ending quest for success leaves them perpetually unsatisfied and incapable of happiness.”  Although being addicted to success isn’t a “chemical medical condition,” it has countless addictive properties for many people. Literally.

Praise has a way of stimulating the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is a result of all addictive behaviors. For example, this is how social media works and keeps people hooked. User’s dopamine levels rise from the “likes” people get after generating a post, and this keeps them coming back, again and again, scrolling hour after hour. The funny thing with success is that “people willingly sacrifice their own well-being through overwork to keep getting hits of success.” In a way, when you get so addicted to this feeling of success, you are essentially choosing being “special” over being “happy.”  

On to the Next Goal…

Our culture has brainwashed us to rely on success making us appear attractive to other people, that is until it begins to ruin your life or your marriage. The problem with success is that it often will leave people dissatisfied, as most people never feel “successful enough.” The initial high lasts for a few days, then we move onto the next pursuit and goal. Psychologists call this the “hedonic treadmill” as the satisfaction wears off almost immediately in which we run on to the next reward to avoid “falling behind.”  

“Unhappy is He Who Depends on Success to be Happy” – Alex Dia Ribeiro

Just as getting off the bottle is not easy for alcoholics getting off of this treadmill isn’t easy for success addicts either. 

American culture valorizes overwork and there is plenty you can do to re-train your brain to chase happiness as opposed to success. Ironically enough, you will not find true happiness on the “hedonic treadmill of your professional life.” But, you will find it in doing deeply ordinary things, just as enjoying a walk or a long conversation with a loved one, instead of working for that extra hour. 

Chasing Happiness, Not Success: How Do I Do It? 

So many people spend their entire lives working hard and striving to outperform others, and social comparison is a big part of how and why people measure worldly success, but the research shows that it “strips us of life satisfaction.”  

  • Step one: Recognize and admit that no matter how successful you are; you will not find happiness within your success 
  • Step two: Make amends for any relationships you have compromised due to your obsession with success or working
  • Step three: Show up and remember that with relationships, actions speak louder than words
  • Step four: Find the right metrics of success

You Are What You Measure

You are what you measure is often a phrase used in business. So, if you are measuring yourself only by the worldly rewards of money, power, and prestige, you will spend your entire life on the “hedonic treadmill” and comparing yourself to others. Remember that success within life is not a bad thing, any more than wine is a bad thing. Both things can bring fun and sweetness to life. However, both also become tyrannical when they are substituted for, instead of a compliment to the relationships and love that should be at the center of our lives. 

Reference: 

Brooks, A. (2020). ‘Success Addicts’ choose being special over being happy. Retrieved from: https://www.theatlantic.com/family/archive/2020/07/why-success-wont-make-you-happy/614731/

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