Success Does Not Equal Happiness

Oftentimes, our entire youth upbringing is clouded by the question of the future. We are set up on a life track to eagerly secure a job and earn a salary, and only then can we feel a sense of security. We create careers for ourselves and make them our identity, our worth, and our sense of entitlement. Don’t misunderstand me. I’m not dismissing the whole idea of careers; the problem is the mindset we adopt in order to secure these jobs.

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Let’s take New York City, for example. The city is a hub for networking and big business breakthroughs. You can’t have a conversation with someone for the first time without them sharing what they do for work. Oftentimes it is more than that. What school did you go to? What internships have you done? What is your salary? People begin to base their perception of you on whether you are successful enough to be beneficial to them. 

We pride ourselves so much on being career driven that we forgo all the other, more important, areas of our lives. Productivity has become our only measure of good. This battle of comparisons leads people into deep bouts of depression, especially in developed countries. Deborah Serani, a psychologist and author of the award- winning book Living with Depression, writes, “When you come from a premier country, there’s extreme competition and extreme feelings of failure: You constantly ask yourself, ‘Am I a have, or a have-not? Or am I an almost-have?’” This extreme competition leads people to continuously compete and find their worth in their titles and income. Joseph Pieper, author of Only the Lover Sings, states:

“It is a fiction to declare work, the production of useful things, to be meaningful in itself. Such fiction leads to the exact opposite of what it seems to accomplish. It brings about the exact opposite of ‘liberation,’ ‘elevation,’ or ‘rehabilitation’ for the worker. It brings about precisely that inhuman dimension so typical of the world of absolute work: it accomplishes the final bondage of man within the process of work, it explicitly makes everybody a proletarian.”

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Pieper warns against the mindset of working for the sake of finding all your value in the work. Man becomes trapped in this vicious cycle of wanting to continue to climb a social ladder without ever finding the time to reflect on personal growth. Pieper calls for a focus on leisure time, where people can indulge themselves in a period of reflection and deep thought. 

The human dignity of a person does not come from material gains. Of course, one can use material gains in order to live better, but  dignity is not found in this. For example, one can be stripped of everything and still maintain one’s dignity and worth. There is a dire need to strip ourselves of this power hungry craving and learn to take a step back and appreciate and enjoy life’s gifts. 

Published on: December 15, 2021
Written by: Kaira Pacheco, WYA North America intern