Why Success Is About Sacrifice, Not Finding Happiness

by Paul Hudson

There's a difference between our wants and our goals — a difference that is incredibly important to reaching fulfillment. There's a general consensus on what people want most out of life. We want to work, but not too much. We want to have excitement and change, but at the same time we want stability and safety. Above all else we want to be happy.

Happiness is the one thing that every person in the world wants. People will vary on the degree to which they want to be successful, wealthy, actively working, but when it comes to happiness, we all want to be as happy as humanly possible. The problem is that happiness isn't a destination, a goal; it's a state of being. We can't reach happiness — we can simply be happy. Once you come to understand and accept this facet of life, being happy comes a whole lot easier.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion. At any given moment, we can feel joyful and happy and then miserable, sad or uncertain the next. Happiness is not sustainable indefinitely or continuously; it is a state that we weave into and out of as we go along living. Some things that we experience will make us happy while other will make us sad.

Others still will put us into countless other emotional states and fluctuate from there on out. The trick isn't to set happiness as your goal in life — the trick is to set goals that will allow you to be happy while you are living and doing your best to attain them. Don't be discouraged; this means that happiness is not something that you have to wait for indefinitely and may miss out on if you are not successful. Happy is something that you can be at any given moment during any point in your life. The trick is to maximize activities and situations, to the best of your ability, that make you happy and minimize those that make you unhappy.

This, like most things in life, is not as simple as it sounds. Knowing what will make you happy and what will make you unhappy is difficult to understand without having prior experience of having done said activity or being in said situation/position.

This means that we can't simply sit on our butts and create a list of all the things that we should maximize because they will make us happy and a list of things that we should avoid because they will make us unhappy. If you haven't lived it and experienced the emotions related to activities and events, then you won't know the emotional impact they will have on you. If you won't try it then you won't know how you will react to it — simple as that.

This is why I always urge people to get out of their comfort zones. We like our comfort zones because they are furnished with past experiences that we somewhat enjoy reliving — experiences that gave us positive emotional results the first several times they were experienced. Unfortunately, human beings are more complicated than that. We can't simply relive past experiences indefinitely in hopes of reliving the happiness that we experienced. When it comes to experiences that we have already lived, reliving them produces diminishing returns.

You may be very happy doing a certain activity the first few times, but once you get comfortable and begin to predict the results, you are removing the element of surprise and boredom will set in. This is why our comfort zones are those dead zones where we seldom experience true happiness, but settle for the experiences anyway because they are less likely to bring about unhappiness. You have happiness on one end of the spectrum, unhappiness on the other, and everything in between is your comfort zone.

So how do you put yourself in a state of happiness? By understanding that there are always tradeoffs that need to be made and setting goals that cater to our willingness to sacrifice. For every good in the world, there is an accompaniment of bad. Nothing is ever ideal and tradeoffs need to be made. That person sitting at that desk from 9-5 has a stable job and a stable income. They don't need to worry about paying their bills or making the rent. However, they have to sit at a desk all day and experience little excitement.

On the other end of the spectrum, we have people who are entrepreneurs. Entrepreneurs set their own hours and usually experience more than their fill of excitement. However, paying the rent and covering expenses isn't guaranteed. If the company isn't doing well then the entrepreneur won't get a paycheck — they are always the last ones to get paid. This goes for jobs across all industries as well as all other aspects of your life. Whether it is your relationship, your work or the way that you spend your leisure, there are always tradeoffs that you need to make. So how do we know what tradeoffs we should make?

The only way to be certain of any result is by going through the motions and experiencing it yourself. You may think that being a lawyer is your dream job, but as soon as you realize that you have to work 80 hours a week, that nice paycheck may no longer seem worth the trouble. There's a huge difference between liking the 'idea' of something and liking the actual something.

Often at times when we find ourselves in our 'dream positions' we find that we aren't as happy as we thought we would be. This is entirely acceptable and necessary. You can only figure out whether or not something will make you happy by either trying it out for yourself or speaking to someone who is in the position you are considering and finding out all the highs and lows associated with it. If we feel that the tradeoffs are those that we are willing to make because in summation we will feel a positive change in our happiness, then we should go for it.

Otherwise we need to keep looking. The only thing left to keep in mind is that it is all right to change your mind and try something new. The chance of you staying happy forever in any given situation is basically zero. The real question is: what sacrifices would you be happy to make? Once you figure this out then happiness will no longer be a goal. It will be a state that you experience every time that you do what you love doing.

Photo credit: Scarface/Universal Studios