The Emotions of Success

By Chris Chittenden

During the Christmas break, a number of articles appeared in the press speaking of a newly recognised phenomenon in Australian society - the "downshifter". A downshifter is someone who chooses to move out of a high paced life into one where they do not value material wealth and its pursuit as highly as they once had and seek to establish greater balance in their life.

These articles got me thinking about how we define success. Regularly in coaching conversations with clients, the topic of what they are striving for in work and life comes up - what they see as being successful. These people are more often than not in their thirties or forties and appear to have the traditional trappings of success - they have a prestigious job, own their house, drive a nice car, have a family and so on. They appear to have everything that we traditionally tag as being successful, yet they are starting to wonder if this is all there is to their life. They seem to be asking themselves whether they are paying too high a price in terms of enjoying their family, friends and possessions by spending too much time earning the cash to pay for what they have.

Most people do not question what they want in life. We are born into a community and family story about what we should strive for in life - do well at school, get a good job, get married, buy a house, have kids - you know the sort of thing. The unspoken assumption is achieve these things and we will feel happy and satisfied in life. For many people, they believe this is what life is all about and so if they are not happy, they see obtaining more will change all that. Hence they strive for more wealth. This is not surprising given the continual bombardment of advertising that we all face stressing the link between owning this or that product and happiness.

So, what is success? Even though there are many social stories about success, as always we can decide for ourselves what we are seeking to achieve in life. From our perspective, being successful does not lie in what we have but rather how we feel. When I say "I am successful", I am really declaring how I feel, not what I am. When we set goals and strive to achieve them, we do so because deep down we want to feel good. We want to feel happy, proud, and so on.

To become clearer about success in your life, we suggest you begin by considering how you want to feel - what emotions do you want to predominantly experience in your life, what ones do you want to avoid? Once you are clear about this, you should decide what is important to you in life and where you are likely to find the emotions that you seek. No doubt there will be trade-offs and you may well have to experience some of the emotions you want to avoid in order to feel more of the ones you seek. The key is to keep a emotional ledger in life, where your positive emotions far outweigh those you do not want.

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© 2002 Chris Chittenden