Redefining Success

“To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty; to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch, or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived; this is to have succeeded.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Imagine, just for a moment, you are on the brink of death. You’ve been ambitious during your life and have achieved your goals. You’ve made a lot of money, but you’re not particularly happy. Now, imagine again that your life is nearly over. This time, although you never made a lot of money, you always had enough for what you needed; you haven’t been very ambitious or had any huge goals, but you are content with how things are. People don’t ask you if you’re happy — they can tell that you are, just by looking at you.

Which of these scenarios would you define as successful? One? Both? Neither? If someone has a high level of social status, financial abundance and a beautiful home, expensive car and all the latest gadgets and gizmos, do you automatically think of them as successful? While this type of definition may have worked for us in the past, perhaps it’s time for a redefinition of the word “success”.

If we have all we want materially, but bring a lot of stress to the people in our lives, can we still call ourselves successful? Jim Rohn, hailed as one of the most influential thinkers of our time, puts it very succinctly: “Pity the man who inherits a million and isn’t a millionaire. Here’s what would be pitiful, if your income grew and you didn’t. Success is not so much what we have as what we are.”

“Originally, I was very oriented towards financial security,” says entrepreneur Anthony Core, 44, “which was part of the reason I chose to become a lawyer, but my definition of success has changed. I think it’s not until you’ve been through the process of acquiring things, and finding the emptiness in that, that you learn [material things are] not what it’s all about.

“I know a lot of people focus on the must-haves. For example, ‘I must have a five-bedroom house in a posh suburb with a tennis court and a Lexus four-wheel drive.’ If they don’t achieve this they feel they’re failing. I don’t understand that way of thinking. Success can be measured on many levels and merely achieving economic wealth is not the be-all and end-all of success.”

Karl Marx may have put it in a nutshell when he said, “The wealthy man is the man who is much, not the one who has much.”

Primary school teacher Jennifer Hogg, 25, says, “I think a lot of us tend to look at people who have the big flashy belongings and see them as successful. For me, success is when you have goals and you achieve them, but not just materialistically. Whether someone is happy and fulfilled in their life is also important. I have a friend who’s very intelligent and has a well-paying job, but we hardly see him because he’s at work from 8am to midnight. He lives in a nice place, has a great car and a big bank account but doesn’t socialise much any more because he’s always so tired. I guess the question this brings up is: what is he sacrificing to be successful and how is it affecting his health?”

Health and success

“Money, achievement, fame and success are important, but they are bought too dearly when acquired at the cost of health.” — Anonymous

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, Nobel Peace Prize Nominee, Founder of the Art of Living Foundation and one of India’s most successful exporters of sagacity and spirituality, points out: “Half our health is spent in gaining wealth, and then half of this wealth we have to spend in gaining back our health. I don’t think that’s good economics!”

If all the effort we put into earning money simply brings us full circle, have we really succeeded and was the journey worthwhile? If we have all the external criteria for success but have along with it high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease and stress, how successful are we really? Perhaps we have been shaking hands with an outdated definition of success.

Some of today’s outstanding people are clearly working with a new interpretation of success. Highly successful entrepreneur Christopher Ian McKay, 49, claims: “While the majority of people are conditioned to focus on financial success and while society promotes and recognises financial success above all other types of success, I see it a bit differently. For me, it’s about having the freedom to experience the things in life one is passionate about and being blessed with good health and the love of family and friends.”

In the recent film Bucket List, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play Edward Cole and Carter Chambers, both terminally ill in hospital. Cole, enormously wealthy, makes a list of everything he wants to do before he dies. He includes his desire to see the pyramids and to skydive, plus an array of other expensive activities. Chambers writes that he wants to laugh until he cries. In the process of spending time with Chambers, Cole has a change of heart. He finally reaches the point where his desire to simply make amends with his daughter over-rides the short-lived joy gained through all the expensive activities.

Is our smile an indication of success?

If you have everything in the world but your smile has become very expensive, are you still successful? Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says, “I feel that success is really measured by the smile a person has on his face. I won’t call someone successful if they are very tense, worried, disappointed, dejected and miserable. Tell me, who would want such success, anyway? Recent scientific observations show us that a baby smiles up to 400 times a day while adolescents smile only around 17 times a day and adults — well, sometimes hardly at all!

“What is it that takes away the natural gifts of humanity — a smile, friendliness, compassion, broad-mindedness etc? We need to ponder on that. If you ask a child how many friends he has in class, he will count them on his fingers: perhaps three, four or five out of a classroom of 40—50 kids. Children are often not friendly with each and every person in their class. When they leave school, how can we then expect them to be friendly with the world? We have somehow failed to nurture the basic human values.”

Human values

“Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man of value.” — Albert Einstein

Perhaps an aspect of success lies in developing oneself into a person who is valuable to others. “We need to cultivate human values,” says Sri Sri. “What really obstructs human values is stress and tension. If a person is tense, then his perception, observation and expression suffer. You have only two ways to get rid of tension: either lessen your workload or increase your energy level. In today’s world, it is not easy to lessen the workload. It keeps on growing day by day. The alternative is to increase our energy, manage our emotions, improve our alertness and awareness and nurture the human values in ourselves and in others.

“We can be creative and productive and at the same time not lose the humanness that we are all born with. Just material things or comfort alone do not really make a person comfortable. We may have a good bed to sleep on, but are unable to sleep due to insomnia or worry. We need to acquire a broad understanding of our selves and our priorities. Success lies in developing a sense of caring for each other and smiling more.”


Selfless service and caring for others

“All of us are born with a reason, but all of us don’t discover why. Success in life has nothing to do with what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself. It’s what you do for others.” — Danny Thomas

For Anthony Corel, a 44-year-old entrepreneur, a key aspect of success is the ability to have a positive effect on other people. “Affecting different groups of people, including my wife and children, is important to me, and then also positively affecting the lives of others, which is why I would one day like to build a country retreat.”

If we have all the wealth in the world and are happy but don’t share our fortune and joy with others, are we still successful? Our ability to move out of a frame of mind in which we are only concerned with ourselves is indicative of our ability to live successfully. Our sense of belonging naturally extends to anything in front of which we can put the word “our”. For example, our wellbeing, our wealth, our happiness or that of those who we feel belong to us (our family and our friends).

Expanding beyond this limited way of thinking enables us to be in the world more successfully. Seeing the whole world as an extension of ourselves, seeing everyone as our brother or sister, enables us to connect with those around us and live more joyously. Living successfully includes asking not “What can I get?” but “What can I give?” and “How can I make a difference to the people around me?”


Is centeredness a sign of success?

There’s a story of a woman whose husband won the lottery. She was concerned that in breaking the news to him he would be so excited that he’d have a heart attack. So she called the local priest and asked him to act as a mediator. That afternoon, the three of them gathered together. The priest began by saying a prayer and then asked the man, “What would you do if God gave you $1 million?” The man replied, “I’d give half of it to the church.” Apparently, the priest then had a heart attack.

If we’re unable to retain our centeredness and balance during the ups and downs of life, how successful are we? There will always be storms and calm waters, no matter what our situations in life. Each of us has good times and bad times, but being able to deal with both in a balanced and centred manner is a sign of success. Buddha’s wisdom tells us all the pain and misery we experience in life come from our cravings and aversions. Being happy with something or someone, and also being happy without, is a sign of success.

Environmental awareness

Is part of being successful in the modern world being conscious about how we affect the planet and the environment, perhaps being carbon neutral? Computer programmer, Simon Shave, when asked what he thinks success is, says, “I think success is more about happiness and contentment. I think success can mean completely different things for different people.

“For Richard Branson, success could be running a successful airline, but for someone else it could be about making a difference to the quality of other people’s lives: for example, looking after old people in a home or teaching meditation and taking care of people’s minds and emotional wellbeing. Maybe it’s about making some positive contributions and being of value, making a positive difference to others and to the planet.”

If we have all the material wealth and external criteria to be healthy and happy but are indirectly oppressing people of the third world by our lifestyle, are we still successful? Perhaps it would be wise for us to include this aspect in our new definition of success. For instance, successful people are those who have created a lifestyle in which they:

  • Walk whenever possible rather than drive.
  • Drive a hybrid car when they need to drive.
  • Use solar power and turn off electrical appliances when they’re not in use.
  • Offset carbon emissions by paying for trees to be planted when they travel long distances.
  • Choose plastic-free products.
  • Choose organic food.
  • View the sky as their ceiling, the earth as their floor and take care of the planet as if it was one of their most precious possessions.


Success with contentment

“She could not separate success from peace of mind — the two must go together.” — Daphne Du Maurier

If being successful means we’re so frustrated and feverish that nobody enjoys being with us, how valuable is that success? Being feverish for success is an impediment to success. Jesus said, “Those who have shall be given more and those who don’t have, whatever little they have shall be taken away.” Sri Sri explains that the “those who have” refers to those who have gratitude. Having gratitude and contentment brings more grace into our lives and where grace is present, true success is, too.

Moving from our individual ideas of success to a more universal vision, the human race could also benefit from being redefined. Sri Sri advocates it’s not only people in hospital who are sick: unhappy people are also sick. Health doesn’t only refer to our physical state of being, but also to how we are in our minds and emotionally. As Mahatma Gandhi stated, “There is no way to peace; peace is the way.” Peace begins with the individual. The only way to create a peaceful society is for each one of us to take responsibility for our own peace of mind and wellbeing. If we all did this, the world could be a place of peace, wellbeing and success for all.

We all know in our hearts this is true and Sri Sri’s vision resonates with this same message of compassion, inclusiveness, mutual respect and peace of mind. Without prioritising and working towards peace, all other achievements and successes remain incomplete. We all want to be happy and peace is the foundation of happiness. In the words of Baltsar Gracia, “The real change we need is ‘The Prosperity of Happiness’ because it will be the change that really changes everything.”

So let the new definition be that a happy man is a successful man, no matter what his rank, status or financial worth may be. For me, the happy road sweeper will always be a more successful person than the unhappy banker.

The WellBeing Team

The WellBeing Team

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