“Success is not the key to happiness. Happiness is the key to success. If you love what you are doing, you will be successful.” ~ Albert Schweitzer
French-German philosopher Albert Schweitzer won the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of his philosophical work entitled ‘Reverence of Life’. It was in this work that the now famous quote about success and happiness became his greatest legacy. It is so simple, yet almost all of us find it so hard to live by.
It is somehow engrained in our psyche that to be happy we first need to have achieved great success. But it is simply not true. In fact it is completely untrue – because the inverse is the truth. Happiness, as Schweitzer came to realize, is the key to success.
Since I came to New York City, I have met many different types of people. The pursuit of happiness is everywhere; they even advertise it for sale on subway billboards. Despite the economy not being as vibrant as it once was, there are still a great number of rich people in the Big Apple, and they are all chasing happiness.
But here is the thing: many of the rich people I meet are stressed and unhappy. Working so hard in the pursuit of a successful career has come for many at the cost of tranquility and happiness. Life is a succession of missed moments of awareness.
Earlier in the spring, I spent a day in the company of a man who was in foul mood because the lawnmower he needed to use to cut the grass at one of his houses had a flat tire. In his world on that day, everything was wrong and he was stressed and cranky. He was absolutely not enjoying life despite his undoubted real estate success. Happiness was in short supply.
I pointed out that if he looked at it from a slightly different perspective, he would realize that it was a minor problem, and the fact that he had several valuable properties was the positive to take from it. He couldn’t understand what I meant. The lawnmower had a flat and that was it. Everything may as well have been broken.
Many people with successful careers have more things to take care of. For a ‘successful’ couple in New York City, having a vacation bolt-hole, or a second car or an extra vacation seems like the type of lifestyle that leads to happiness. But it also brings extra chores. Additional properties require additional maintenance and additional expenses. Extra vacations mean less free time, and in some ways are counter-productive.
This is not to say that the trimmings of an affluent lifestyle are a bad thing. If the career and monetary success are built using happiness, then the happiness will grow exponentially as a result. But if the lavishness is built out of something else and in the pursuit of happiness, then the goal will always be slightly out of reach due to the additional workload and responsibility. All of the hard work will be for nothing is the end game is more stress.
Some of the happiest people I have met in New York City are in the service industry. There is no demanding expectation to have a house in the Hamptons or six skiing trips to Vermont. There is no stress to find parking or have properties cleaned. On the flip side, I have seen mili-millionaires and even billionaires, getting really upset because they have waited maybe a minute longer than they would like for their meal to be served.
So how do we build the happiness that will lead to success? Meditation. It really is that simple. People who meditate regularly live in the now. They are capable of experiencing happiness right now. Not when the credit card bill is lowered. Not when the mortgage has been cleared. Not when they board the cruise to the Caribbean or not when they unwrap the Louis Vuitton. They are able to identify and enjoy happiness right now.
It is such a simple concept that we almost always complicate it. But the essence of living this way is that we are living in the moment, without the shackles and headaches of past or future stresses. In general terms, there is no stress right in this very moment. Living here, although it is not always easy, is the secret to nurturing happiness which is the true key to long-term bona-fida success. Try it and see!