THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN HAPPINESS AND SUCCESS
The motivation myth makes us unhappy for two reasons. First, it leads to a sin of commission. A person who self-identifies as a
failure, who regularly quits before reaching the finish line, is a chronically unhappy person. But it also causes a sin of omission. We aren't mindfully enjoying one of the most rewarding experiences on earth: slowly growing stronger, or more skillful, or more wise.
Like when my grandfather bought a racehorse.
I wasn't even a teenager, but even I knew it was a terrible decision. A racehorse was a luxury he and my grandmother surely
could not afford. But at least ongoing costs were low because he lived on a farm. That's a justification I'm sure he floated by my
Over the next year he would scrape together entry fees and race the horse with little success at small local tracks. One was no better than an open field rutted by the pounding of hooves. Another featured an announcer who placed his PA system on the back of his truck and powered it with a generator that almost drowned out the sound of his voice. (I can still remember him saying, "As you folks know, in Virginia it's illegal to bet at a racetrack...but if you folks mosey away from the track and on down to that big old oak tree over yonder, I'm sure someone will be happy to accommodate you." And I can still remember the muscles in my father's face tightening in response.)
Then one day the impossible happened. After somehow talking one of the better jockeys into riding his horse—"somehow" surely including slipping the man an extra forty dollars, a princely sum for the ride—his horse placed second at the now long-defunct Goochland Races, held at the county fairgrounds less than ten miles from where my grandfather lived.
After the race, he stood at the finish line and held up the small silver plate so we could take his picture. Then we led the horse
back around the sandy track toward the barn area as some of the people on the outside of the rail congratulated him.
I was only twelve, but even I could see a noticeable difference in the way he walked. For those moments he stood taller, carrying himself with a clear sense of accomplishment, dignity, and pride.
Only years later did I realize why my grandfather had bought the horse. He desperately wanted to be someone. He wanted to matter.
That's a wish we all share. For the most part, that's why we change careers, or start businesses, or play an instrument, or go back to school. That's why we run for local office, volunteer at a charity, or are active in church.
We want to matter...but when we focus solely on mattering to other people—when we focus on seeing the reflection of our worth in the eyes of others—the difference that feeling makes in our lives is often fleeting.
By the time we got back to the farm, my grandfather's glow had faded.
Sure, he was still happy, but all the external benefits of that small success— the smiles, the words of congratulation, the nods
from friends and strangers— had disappeared.
At the end of my grandfather's racing journey, he was left with what we are all left with, no matter what we have accomplished and no matter how much praise or recognition we have received from others. The accomplishment, no matter how amazing, is just the cherry on top of the fulfillment cake.
If your goal has long been to build a business that does $10 million in sales, you feel amazing the second you hit that target—but that moment of achievement is just one moment. If your goal has long been to run a marathon, you feel amazing the second you cross the finish line—but that moment of achievement is just one moment.
The road to a target, to a goal, or to a finish line is filled with countless hours of work and determination and sacrifice...and
countless opportunities to feel good about what you have accomplished, each and every day along the way.
A slice of satisfaction, fulfillment, and happiness can be found in the achievement...but the real source of consistent, lasting
happiness lies in the process. My grandfather wasn't involved in the process. Granted, he bought the horse...but then he jumped to the end. He skipped all the steps in between: training the horse, conditioning the horse, developing the horse's speed slowly but surely, teaching it not just how to run but how to race.
He didn't give himself the chance to enjoy the daily doses of fulfillment that come from engaging in the process. Accomplishing
something, no matter how small the task, makes us feel better about ourselves. That's why to-do lists are so popular. (Many people write down really easy tasks—or tasks they've already completed—just so they can scratch them off.)