The Big Lie About Success – And The Little Secret To Happiness

“Money won’t buy happiness, but it will pay the salaries of a large research staff to study the problem.”
William Vaughan, columnist (1915-1977)

Writing in “Fast Company” magazine, best-selling author Harriet Rubin makes a profoundly disturbing statement. She writes: “Of all the subjects that we obsess about, of all the subjects that we lust after, success is the one we lie about the most.”

We lie about success, and its cousin, money, telling ourselves it will make us secure. We lie about success, and its cousin, power, telling ourselves that it will make us important. And we lie about success, and its cousin, fame, telling ourselves it will make us happy. As Rubin puts it, “It’s time to tell the truth: People are reaching the top, using all of their means to get money, power, and glory — and then self-destructing.”

That’s why my program on “Take This Job and Love It! Managing Stress, Preventing Burnout, and Balancing Life … On And Off The Job” continues to be so popular and so powerful. No one has to be overstressed, burned out, or off balance … if they have and apply these program skills to their jobs and their lives.

To help you achieve the happiness and contentment you want and need, here are a few things you should be doing.

1. Learn to be happy with less.

Yeah, yeah, I know. That almost sounds unAmerican … if not just plain wrong … especially when it comes from a motivational author and speaker such as myself.

And no, I’m not advocating laziness or complacency. I believe in hard work, and very few people work any harder than I do. But I’ve also learned how dangerous it can be when you believe that happiness comes with the accumulation of “stuff.”

The simple truth is … no one should get everything he or she wants. When parents do this for their children, for example, they destroy their child’s initiative and kill off their child’s sense of gratitude. And when governments do this for their constituents, they create an anti-social, selfish, entitlement attitude.

Of course, there are millions of people who need to learn to be happy with less. But perhaps no one needed to learn that lesson more than one man. He wanted more wealth, so he built one of the biggest financial empires of his day. He wanted more pleasure, so he paid for the most glamorous women he could buy. He wanted more adventure, so he built and piloted the world’s most unique aircraft, setting air speed records. He wanted more power, so he acquired political clout that was the envy of Senators. And he wanted more glamour, so he owned film studios and flirted with the movie stars.

Did it work? Well, you be the judge of that. At the end of his life, he was a figure of enormous power … but good for nothing, except the grave. He weighed a mere 120 pounds despite his six-foot-four-inch frame. He had a thin scraggly beard that reached its way onto his sunken chest, and he had long hideous fingernails that grew like grotesque yellow corkscrews. Many of his teeth were black, nothing more than rotting stumps. A tumor was beginning to emerge from the side of his head, and his body was covered with needle marks. Howard Hughes had become the world’s richest and most famous addict, a billionaire junkie.

So here’s the question: If Hughes had pulled off one more deal, made one more million dollars, and tasted one more thrill, would it have been enough? Absolutely not. The lie tells us we’ll be happy and content if we can just get a little bit more stuff. But since the beginning of time, this myth has never proven to be true.

You’ve got to learn to be happy with less … as one hard-charging executive learned. When he decided to spend a few days in a monastery, the monk who led him to his room said. “I hope your stay is a blessed one. And if you need anything, let us know. We’ll teach you to live without it.”

The secret is this: Happiness isn’t getting everything you want, it’s enjoying what you have. And often times, that means learning to be happy with less.

2. Seek silence.

If you aren’t achieving everything you want to achieve, you could blame the government, the economy, your company, your boss, your color, your family, and a host of other scapegoats. And indeed, all of those things could be factors in your life. But more often than not, the biggest factors keeping you from becoming greater than you are now are all the inner conflicts going on in your mind.

In fact, if you could look inside the heads of many people and see what is going on in their brains, you would be filled with pity. As one novelist said when he was describing one of his characters, “He isn’t a human being; he is a civil war.”

So how can you resolve your inner conflicts … the very conflicts that are robbing you of happiness, contentment, and work life balance? How can you get through these blocks to release your true abilities?

Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, the father of modern-day positive thinking, says a good portion of the answer can be found in silence. In fact, he often spoke of a physician-friend who sent some his patients to church to get “healed” of their inner conflicts.

One patient resisted, saying “I hate sermons.” Nonetheless, his doctor said, “Go and don’t even listen to the sermon if you don’t want to. Take cotton along and put it in your ears when the sermon begins. But my prescription for the happiness and stress management you need is to go to church. They have a period of quiet. If you yield yourself to this quietness, the spirit of the Almighty will gradually permeate your mind with its healing influence. That is the medicine I want you to take.”

Just as he did in so many other cases, the doctor reported that a great change came over this man. First, he attended church for one thing only … for that moment of silence. Then he began listening to the music, and finally to the sermon. One by one his inner conflicts were resolved, and he regained his health, his vitality, and his productivity.

What about you? Are you getting and/or taking all the silence you need … to ensure all the happiness, contentment, and work life balance you want and need?

And then…

3. Remind yourself things could be worse.

The 100-year-old comedian George Burns spoke about that. He said, “Happiness is having a large, loving, caring close-knit family in another city.” Apparently Burns thought it would be worse if his family was close by.

But Burns wasn’t a pessimist by any means. He quipped, “Happiness is a good martini, a good meal, a good cigar and a good woman … or a bad woman, depending on how much happiness you can stand.”

Of course, we can laugh along with Burns, but the truth is … things could always be worse. Perhaps that’s why the Good Book tells us to give thanks in all situations. Things could be worse.

Snoopy learned that. As he was lying in his dog house on Thanksgiving Day, he mumbled about being stuck with dog food while all those humans got to be inside with the turkey, gravy, and pumpkin pie. “Of course, it could have been worse,” he finally reflected. “I could have been born a turkey.”

When you remind yourself “it could be worse, ” you’ve engaged a powerful tool that will go to work … building your sense of contentment.

One of my heroes and mentors, Og Mandino taught me that. As a motivational author, he told me, “I will love the light for it shows me the way. Yet I will endure the darkness for it shows me the stars.”

As you continue your search for happiness on and off the job, you need to…

4. Understand what you seek is spiritual, not material.

I always use the word “spiritual” with some trepidation, because some people go all wacky on me when I even mention the word “spiritual.” Hang in there. I’m not trying to convert anyone or push any particular theological doctrine on anyone.

But as a researcher with a Ph.D. in interpersonal communication, I feel obligated to tell you what works for so many millions of people … whether or not you like what I have to say. You see … the problem does NOT lie in the fact that people want more. It lies in the fact that people want more of the “stuff” that will never bring the happiness, contentment, stress management, or work life balance they crave.

St. Augustine said it very well. In his words, “Our souls will never rest, until they rest in Thee.” Or put into more contemporary terms, St. Augustine might have asked, “How could you ever feel at home when this world is not your home?”

When you get your spiritual life in order, you will master the so-called “art of living.” You will be able to handle anything that comes your way, according to economist E. F. Schumacher. He said, “The art of living is always to make a good thing out of a bad thing.”

Finally, as a way of checking yourself to see if you have truly learned how to be happy, to see if you actually passed the stress test..,

5. Look for the evidence of peace.

In other words, you should be able to see, hear, and/or feel it in your life and in your work. Author Saskia Davis called them “symptoms of inner peace.” She lists some of the following … and I’ve added a few of my own.

* Greater tendency to act with spontaneity rather than be controlled by fear.
* Greater ability to enjoy each moment.
* Less interest in judging other people as to what they “should” do.
* Less time spent on judging yourself and being worried what others will think.
* Less interest in the conflicts and gossip that surround you.
* Less time spent on worry.
* Frequent, overwhelming episodes of appreciation.
* Contented feelings of connectedness with others and nature.
* Frequent attacks of smiling.
* An increasing acceptance of the love extended by others as well as the desire to show love in return.

As Davis finishes her list, she says: “WARNING: If you have some or all of the above symptoms, please be advised that your condition of inner peace may be so far advanced as to not be curable. If you are exposed to anyone exhibiting any of these symptoms, remain exposed only at your own risk.”

That’s a risk I’m willing to take.

Action:  Find time for silence at least twice this week. And begin to incorporate this practice into your life.