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Success and Happiness

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  • Success and Happiness

    Can't help but to wonder if we are all so distracted by the minutia of the daily challenges thrown at us that we really don't take the time to ponder the bigger questions in the universe.

    What is ultimately one's best life? Success and happiness seem to play a major role in that quest. How often do we ponder and adjust our individual definitions of success and happiness, or is there an absolute definition?

    For me, at this time, success seems to be defined as taking part in efforts that lead to achievements that promote the greater good. Beyond the feeling of success, the reward for the efforts does not necessarily come back to us, but shared among humanity. Charity work, tithes, missions trips, sacrifices for the family, holding the door for others, giving up a seat for the elderly/disabled, mentoring, putting a smile on someone's face, a larger restaurant/hotel tip, giving comfort to our patients all come to mind. In addition, things like character (ie. how we behave in private), ethics and sensitivity also makes it less likely that our actions will adversely affect others. At one point most of us, myself included, defined success as the accumulation of wealth and tangibles or power - after all this is how society wants to define it for us. Success may involve the freedom from "big brother's" mind control.

    I find happiness, therefore, the result of constant efforts to take this success in life to higher levels. Many look to retirement for happiness, but many articles I have read show that while it's great not to wake up to the sound of an alarm clock they also reveal people are not as happy in retirement as they thought they would be if they prepared better. What is that preparation? Seems to me like taking a real effort to ponder these questions may reveal that achieving success and happiness can start today, whether we're new in our careers, midway, or approaching/in retirement. If we are so dissatisfied with our job today that we can't achieve our success and therefore happiness, is there another job out there for us that better aligns with our efforts for success in life?

    From the comments I see, most of us with at least a few gray hairs no longer have much interest in re-upping the things we have accumulated in the past, prefer to consider downsizing our residences, focus on sleeping better with wealth preservation than caring about the returns on our overall portfolios, and an have overall tendency to simplifying our complex lives where we can. Don't get me wrong a financially comfortable retirement is a necessary one. As physicians we are likely to get there, beyond that wealth without purpose seems to lose it's appeal and seems to lead to emptiness, not happiness.

    So, what are the big questions we should be asking ourselves and how will you, at your last breath, define the sources of success and happiness in your life?

  • #2
    How do I build a life that allows me to take good care of myself in all realms, physical health, emotional health, enough exercise and sleep?

    How can I build healthier and stronger relationships with my spouse, family, friends and community?

    How can I position myself in a good place to allow me to give back more to others?



    • #3
      These are tough questions, and I suspect the answers are a bit different for each person.  But what little I do know is that at least for me, the secret of happiness and a meaningful life does not rest on the accumulation of more "stuff" (much to Madison Avenue's disappointment).  For me, I think once I leave medicine behind, that meaning may lie in teaching young people to better appreciate the natural world.  But it's hard to know for certain.  Part of the problem with medicine is that it tends to crowd out everything else in life, which means that you are having to re-invent your life from scratch after you leave it (as opposed to just expanding a small but already-existing part of it).


      • #4
        My dad always said that the hallmark of a life well-spent is in how many people remember you fondly when you're gone.  That could be because of a personal impact you've had in their life (personally or professionally), the charity/volunteer work you've done that they've benefited from, or just someone who admired the life you've lived and used it as an inspiration of their own.

        For some reason, that's always stuck with me.  It's simple, and completely disregards your socioeconomic status, level of education, or other roll of life's lucky dice. It's personal, and the only real limitation is your own actions.
        I should have been a pair of ragged claws. Scuttling across the floors of silent seas.


        • #5
          Little tangential, but does anyone think Abraham Lincoln was happy throughout his life. His son died. His wife was depressed always. His actions resulted in death in 400k. Sure he accomplished emancipation, but if you told me he wasn't happy and stressed all the time, I'd believe you. I also believe his life was one well lived. Not saying that we all need to free slaves, but being a competent physician doesn't have to be a cynical existence.


          • #6
            Happiness is overrated.


            • #7

              Happiness is overrated.
              Click to expand...

              Why do you believe so?


              • #8

                Happiness is overrated.
                Click to expand...

                I disagree.  Happiness is awesome.

                I will take a stab at the original question and try to define success as I want to view it at the end of my life.

                Success is maintaining one's own happiness and positive outlook even during times of adversity and trying to help others do the same during those times.  Not a traditional definition but the times in my life that I am proudest of are those where I was able to do just that.  The times in my life that I look back and wish I could go back and change often involve giving in to the temptation to wallow in sorrow and negativity.

                I do think that, barring true mental illness, happiness is a choice.  You can look at any given situation from multiple viewpoints to increase or decrease your happiness.  Sometimes unhappiness is a nidus for positive change, and can be a good thing in that regard, but sometimes unhappiness is just a bad habit and doesn't spur anything positive.

                I do not think success as defined as material wealth has any direct correlation with happiness.  If anything it seems the most content people are happy where they are at so might not achieve as much material wealth as they might have if they were discontent and trying to achieve the next thing to find that elusive happiness.


                • #9
                  Contentment and purpose mean more than happiness. The never ending pursuit of pleasure over purpose is own of Western society's greatest mistakes and a mortal personal failing, in my view.


                  • #10

                    Contentment and purpose mean more than happiness. The never ending pursuit of pleasure over purpose is own of Western society’s greatest mistakes and a mortal personal failing, in my view.
                    Click to expand...

                    Contentment = happiness.

                    If having a purpose makes you content, you achieve happiness through your sense of purpose.

                    Pleasure, e.g., sex, food, is not the same as happiness.

                    I think you're just doing a semantic somersault.


                    • #11
                      This is something I think about often for my kids.  I feel like I was fed a certain idea of success and happiness growing up that I now question.  Having top grades, going to top schools, having a prestigious and "successful" career, making lots of money, etc.  The discussion of private vs public college being relevant here. Talking with my peers, many of them followed this path but aren't necessarily all that happy or content with their life.  Not just MD's, who have their share of gripes, but accountants, lawyers, white-collar folks and others that most would consider having "successful" careers.  The pressure and stress coming from various directions in different aspects of their life affects them.  Few of them have bucked the trend, at least professionally, leaving promising careers and potential to become a police officer, work construction, etc. and seem happier for it.  Not saying that's the solution for everyone. I'll try to learn and figure this out for myself and hopefully share this with my kids one day so that they can be better for it.


                      • #12
                        Two close boyhood friends grow up and go their separate ways.  One becomes a humble monk, the other a rich and powerful minister to the king.

                        Years later they meet.  As they catch up, the minister (in his fine robes) takes pity on the thin, shabby monk.  Seeking to help, he says:

                        “You know, if you could learn to cater to the king you wouldn’t have to live on rice and beans.”

                        To which the monk replies:

                        “If you could learn to live on rice and beans you wouldn’t have to cater to the king.”


                        Happiness is a state of mind, not a state of being and is only marginally related to money or pleasure.  Only you can define what a happy life looks like, but I think humility/selflessness are a large part of it.


                        • #13

                          Happiness is overrated.
                          Click to expand...

                          I think the idea of happiness can be troublesome. Its squishy and relative. Easy to assume its not where you're at and others are and somethings wrong.

                          I view it like fitness. Its impossible to be at peak fitness all the time, you can be fit, working to hone it, and peak, but you cannot stay peaked no matter what. Anyone who's tried or dabbled in athletics knows this. Happiness is similar.

                          You can have a baseline level of contentment, slight more happy, and there will be moments and periods of unbounded joy, but those are sparing. Thankfully so, all those times whether physical or mental are high stress.

                          Agree purpose and contentment in general are important, kind of leads to happy. But again, what is happy? How much happy is the right amount?

                          Most of life is pretty boring for the majority of people and what isnt spent working and sleeping is filled with tasks and nonsense. Thats just normal life. We're fed some crazy myth of success/happiness, but its all just a different twist on the above. Its normal no matter what kind of work you do to find issues, complain and get bored. Its the human way. Realizing that helps I think, no one is out there just super happy all the time that is healthy.


                          • #14
                            Happiness has a social, competitive narrative, like the way death is depicted in the media.
                            In real life, it’s much messier.
                            Undignified, messy, humanity, in denial.

                            I tend to think most people are worried, anxious or miserable a lot of the time and that’s ok.

                            I tend to think the happiness literature is BS.
                            It’s ok to be unhappy and to fail (whatever that means).
                            Not everyone has to be a winner all the time.
                            But maybe as humans, it’s important for us to try to be happy or to win.

                            If you can look back at your life and see where you failed, that’s probably not a bad thing.
                            If you can look back on your life and see nothing but successes, that’s probably not a bad thing either.


                            • #15

                              New here.  But I've broken down my formula for (personal) happiness to the following:

                              Relationships + Health + Financial Security = Contentment