“Your success and happiness lie in you.” ― Helen Keller
What are the key ingredients of a happy and successful life? This is a difficult question to answer because the definition of success is not the same for everyone.
Different folks have different definitions of success and happiness.
But are there any unifying ideas that apply to many of us? What are the key ingredients that we cannot do without?
Let us explore 7 concepts that I believe that we may all need for happiness and success.
“Life always begins with one step outside of your comfort zone.” ― Shannon L. Alder
1. Sculpt away the Stone Block to find the Statue: What Cannot You Live without?
“Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it.” – Michelangelo
Basic Idea: Let us call this “Subtractive Focus” or “Declutter till only the most important things remain” idea. Then focus on those things.
Have you heard the following?
- Go for your passion.
- Seek your Dharma.
- What makes you happy?
- And so on…
While the passion approach has its own merits, often many of us do not exactly know what we want from life.
Moreover, what we want and are passionate about can become moving targets based on the time and the situation. In essence, many things interest us and this can make it frustrating to identify the important ones.
So what is the solution?
Let us flip the idea on its head. Instead of trying to find your passion, ask what cannot you live without?
What unnecessary elements and time wasters can you chisel away from your life to reveal your primary passions and skills?
“In every block of marble I see a statue as plain as though it stood before me, shaped and perfect in attitude and in action. I have only to hew away the rough walls that imprison the lovely apparition to reveal it to the other eyes as mine see it.” – Michelangelo
For example, writing is a theme that keeps occurring in my life. When I think I ought to give up, I find reasons that make it impossible to go without it.
What are the signals that keep recurring in your life? It could be art or designing something or an undying passion for cooking.
When you go any length of time without it, you begin to feel uncomfortable and even restless. Life feels empty.
But when you get back to that “hobby,” time stands still and you enter into the enchanted feeling of flow.
So what is it that you cannot live without? Recognize the writing on the wall and go for the themes and interests that you will not give up on.
Find something that is beyond a want for success.
Find something that brings you true happiness and not just outside recognition.
Find something that addresses your inner needs and intrinsic motivation.
Find something that you cannot imagine living without. A hobby? A skill?
Find something that you feel strongly for and get powerful emotions into the sway.
Find something that you will not quit regardless of success.
You have a recipe for success if this comes close to the soft spot of your skills, passions and fulfilling a need for others.
Remember that while you pursue this skill or interest, both the forest or the big picture and the trees or the details are important.
Have BIG plans but also have small and actionable bits.
This is where many of us go wanting. We make big plans and do not pay attention to the details.
Or we get lost in the unnecessary details and forget the forest for the trees.
Remember that both the big plans and the details are important.
“Don’t spend time beating on a wall, hoping to transform it into a door.” ― Coco Chanel
2. Uncouple Yourself from the idea of Failure and have Realistic Expectations
“I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time.” ― Herbert Bayard Swope
Consider these equations:
Too much expectation = Disappointment
Too little expectation = NO success
Expectation + Fear of Failure = an Impossible situation for success and happiness
Do you agree with the formulae that I have outlined above? You may have heard at many places that failure is key and we need to fail to succeed.
Motivational texts and posts want us to fail and learn. I completely agree with this but the issue is that failure is exceptionally hard to digest.
Even the best and the most perseverant people get discouraged by failure.
But there is some relief here. Luckily for us, failure is a muscle. The more you allow yourself to launch and put things out there and get reviews, the more you prepare.
But here is the important thing to remember:
After finding something you cannot do without, failure should not matter.
The important training we all need to go through is the continual reframing of the idea of failure. Transform failure into something manageable.
To succeed beyond failure, we need to uncouple from the conventional idea and energy of failure.
You will need to remove the emotional and social burden from the idea of failure.
While it can be devastating, people will not notice for long that you have failed. remember that people have limited attention spans.
If you are recrafting and learning from failure, you can turn the worst critic into a fan.
Some talented people I know get crushed by failure.
Failure systematically and gradually dulls their creative and emotional resilience to succeed.
Despite knowing that we need to learn from failure, we keep falling into the same “failure is bad” trap.
The solution is to not have any or have little expectations. When you place your expectations in a realistic frame of reference, failure becomes easier to manage.
“It is hard to fail, but it is worse never to have tried to succeed.” ― Theodore Roosevelt
3. Refocus Energy from Comparing To Creating
“Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason and Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.” ― Brenda Ueland, If You Want to Write: A Book about Art, Independence and Spirit
Simple rule: Create something new every day. One step forward daily.
An affirmation that helps with creation and improvement is from Émile Coué:
“Everyday in every way my life is getting better, better and better.”
One of the biggest energy drainers and time wasters is our discerning and comparing mind. While comparison is a good yardstick to measure your success, we all know that too much of it is not productive.
The problem is that there is always someone out there who seems happier and more successful.
And social media does not help where everyone is posting their vacation pictures or how awesome their life is.
The highly creative people understand one simple secret that makes their life successful.
They create and move forward regardless of their comparing minds.
When you spend a lot of valuable time and energy focusing on comparing yourself to others and contemplate the “what ifs” and the and the “shoulds,” you are taking time away from creativity.
I don’t need to tell you that we are all unique and are in our unique situations based on our lives and pasts and circumstances.
If there is something to come out of comparison with your peers, may it be an inspiration to reach for greater excellence.
“The reason why we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” – Stephen Furtick
4. If You Are Good, You Can be Better: Practice Practice Practice
Basic Idea: Deep practice on the edge of your comfort level and with a high amount of challenge = Flow states. Make practice a daily habit.
What is mastery? And who sets the bar for excellence?
One of the reasons why we get bored with our skills and our passions is that we get stagnant in them. We reach a milestone and then plateau at that level. It seldom occurs to us that life is a continual learning process.
But the masters will tell you that the search for excellence and deep practice are intrinsically rewarding.
Go for the learning mindset as eminent researcher Carol Dweck describes. Leave the fixed mindset behind, and you can reach higher levels of excellence.
The pursuit of reaching for more excellence is a worthy pursuit.
Twyla Tharp, the great dancer and choreographer in her book “The Creative Habit” tells us the story of the great master Mozart.
Mozart himself wrote to a friend:
“People err who think my art comes easily to me. I assure you dear friend, nobody has devoted so much time and thought to composition as I. There is not a famous master whose music I have not industriously studied through many times.”
By the time he was in his late 20’s, Mozart’s fingers were deformed with all the hours of practice, and writing compositions with a quill pen.
The problem is that we assume that success will be easily available after we put in some effort.
The reality is that there are no guarantees in life. The only thing that we can control is how happy we feel while we are in the state of deep practice and flow.
How satisfied are you to learn and practice to reach higher levels of excellence in your field?
How ready are you to go past what psychologist Gay Hendricks calls the “Upper limit problem” and take the BIG leap in your life?
“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” ― Leonardo da Vinci
5. Haters Please go on Hating…Your Opinion Does NOT Matter to Me
Taylor Swift’s song goes on like this:
“But I keep cruising, can’t stop, won’t stop moving,
It’s like I got this music in my body and it’s gonna be alright,
‘Cause the players gonna play, play, play, play, play,
And the haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate,
Baby, I’m just gonna shake, shake, shake, shake, shake,
I shake it off, I shake it off”
Now you might or might not be a big Taylor Swift fan.
But there is an important message in this song that can be scarcely overlooked if you want to jump into a life of happiness and great success.
That message is about the haters in your life.
There will always be the:
- Smug people telling you things.
- The “friend” who feels superior by dispensing unsolicited advice.
- The hater on social media who rips your work to shreds because somehow they do not like you.
- The morally and intellectually superior individual who tells you everything wrong with you and your life.
How do you “shake it off?”
This may be a hard pill to swallow but some amount of thick skin may be necessary for you to develop great success and happiness in your life.
Shame Researcher Brene Brown calls it being in the “arena.” Many people hate on your work anonymously online. She says that she does not bother with people who are not in the arena.
I believe what she is referring to is that she does not bother with people who are not authentic enough to reveal who they are.
I love that idea! Even within the arena, I think you should allow limited access to friends and family to hate upon your core ideas, and creative projects.
You can never keep the haters away. But if you allow their ideas unlimited access to your mind and spirit, you may find it difficult to be successful and happy.
6. Treat your Success Like an Experimental Startup
“A thinker sees his own actions as experiments and questions–as attempts to find out something. Success and failure are for him answers above all.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Part of the reason that many of us do not feel success or experience happiness is because we get too invested in one way of doing things.
We assume that since we have spent all this time in doing something, we should be rewarded with great success and happiness. But I have discovered over the years that real life does not seem to work that way.
It is more like the crooked path to success gif that makes its rounds on social media claiming that success is not a straight line.
I might add that it benefits us to treat the path to success like a science experiment. An experiment with alternate hypotheses and quick data analyses and peer review.
The scientific process cannot take sides and cannot be too attached to one hypothesis.
In other words, science moves forward on the basis of substantiated and successful data. It does not care about interests and preferences.
So when we do not experience the success that we feel we deserve, there is a great tendency to feel disillusioned and give up.
But instead, treat everything like a finely crafted science experiment.
Allow quality experiments and impeccable data to drive you forward. Be unafraid of some honest peer review and publishing.
Most importantly, recognize what Eric Ries calls “pivot or persevere” in his description of the Lean Startup.
Become comfortable with the idea of MVP or Minimum Viable Product, quick iterations and launches, and feedback. And pivot or persevere as Ries describes.
When you startupify (is that a word???) your project, you are introducing fun experimentation and actual field testing and live feedback.
This allows for a more sustainable outcome. This outcome is more likely to succeed and make you happy much like a risky startup that ends up succeeding.
“Build-Measure-Learn feedback loop is at the core of the Lean Startup model.” ― Eric Ries, The Lean Startup
7. Do not Outsource Success and Happiness: Find your Happiness, Joy, Peace, Love or Whatever in this moment
“Be happy with who you are and what you do, and you can do anything you want.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
Core Idea: Redefine your example and idea of success.
After you pursue what you love and give your best, you are already a success. Enjoy the journey right now.
Some of the discoveries on the path:
- Feel strongly.
- Discover new horizons.
- Create new stuff.
- Love more.
- Serve more.
- Be grateful.
- Hope more.
Research on happiness suggests that we should find happiness and joy in this moment to succeed. When you are happy and excited, you are more likely to succeed.
Success is relative and different for different people. So engage in your dream creative projects and develop your most desired skills and feel a sense of excitement.
In a way, you are redesigning success to what it means to your individual situation.
You are not that concerned about popular opinion. You choose your unique structures and respect your desires and attempts in your definition of success.
Enjoying the moment is not what we may have learnt to believe and do.
But finding your inner happy and contentment now is powerful for the inspired pursuit of success.
Now and not later is the time to discover, feel joy and be creative with your life and your projects. From that standpoint, you are already a success.
“And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!” ― Dr. Seuss
A quick summary:
- Sculpt away the stone block to find the statue: What cannot you live without?
- Uncouple Yourself from the idea of Failure and have Realistic Expectations.
- Refocus energy from comparing to creating.
- If you are good, you can be better….practice practice practice.
- Haters please go on hating…your opinion does not matter to me.
- Treat your Success Like an Experimental Startup.
- Do not Outsource Success and Happiness: Find your happiness, joy, peace, love or whatever in this moment.
“You may be the only person left who believes in you, but it’s enough. It takes just one star to pierce a universe of darkness. Never give up.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich, Smile Anyway