We are often told that if we aren’t hustling and grinding, then we won’t make it.
That if we aren’t outworking others, we’ll be left behind.
But what is the end goal? What does success really mean?
My definition of success is doing work that I love and living a long, happy, and healthy life.
And here are the facts to achieve that type of success:
Money can buy happiness, but only to a point
One often-cited study revealed that money stops producing happiness after you make $75,000 per year. More recent research clarifies those findings to show that the happiness gains from income starts to fall off around $70,000, becomes very low by $160,000, and then hits zero around $200,000. You undoubtedly want a comfortable standard of living to minimize financial stress, but chasing huge income as a means to happiness is not a proven strategy.
Working very long hours is not a recipe for productivity or happiness
Research shows that productivity falls sharply after 50 hours per week, and drops off a cliff after 55 hours. In the world’s happiest countries (primarily Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Sweden), people work hard but rarely put in more than 37 hours per week. But that doesn’t mean they aren’t innovating — Sweden alone has produced world-shaping companies such as IKEA, Skype, and Spotify.
You also need to take real time off. Six weeks of vacation time per year has been shown to be optimal for happiness (unfortunately Americans take an average of only 11 days).
Social relationships are the best predictor of overall health and happiness
A Harvard study, conducted over 80 years, has revealed that close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. And those findings hold true even when factoring in genes, social class, and IQ. In fact, of the thousands of people included in the study, those who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. The study’s lead researcher concluded that “the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.” Social relationships are quite simply the most powerful tool you have to live a long and happy life.
Social interaction also boosts your mood on a day-to-day basis. The data shows that to have a great day, you should aim for six hours of social time. That might seem like a lot, but every hour of social time helps to reduce your chance of having a bad day. A little is good, a lot is better. Unfortunately, Americans socialize for an average of only 41 minutes per day. Maybe we should spend less time hustling, and more time socializing.
Happiness causes success, not the other way around
We often grind away in hopes of making it big, as a means to eventually become happy. But Shawn Achor, one of the world’s leading experts on the connection between happiness and success, says that we have the formula backward: Happiness fuels success, not the other way around. If you want to achieve success, you need to look after your own happiness first.
Here are five easy everyday habits to boost your happiness:
- Write down three new things each day that you are grateful for
- Journal about a recent positive experience you’ve had for 2 minutes per day
- Engage in 15–30 minutes of cardio exercise such as brisk walking or jogging
- Meditate — Simply focus on your breath going in and out for 2 minutes per day
- Start your day by writing a 2-minute positive email thanking a friend or colleague, or complimenting someone you admire
Achor says that doing those five things every day for 21 days straight will produce profound (and lasting) happiness benefits.
The number 2 most common regret of the dying is, “I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
A palliative nurse recorded the most common regrets of the dying and put her findings into a book called The Top Five Regrets of The Dying. The reality is that at the end of their life, nobody wishes they had worked more.
Don’t wait until you are on your deathbed to make that realization.
Use the time that you have now — while you are still in good health — to focus on the things that really matter (like quality relationships with friends and family).
We need to slow down and savor life
Our busy, always-on-the-go lifestyle is stressful. And stress leads to chronic inflammation, associated with every major age-related disease. While some stress is inevitable (and even beneficial), you must effectively manage it if you want to live well. Instead of always staying in overdrive, we need to consciously downshift, a common practice among the world’s longest-lived people.
Take a nap, enjoy a happy hour with friends, unplug after work hours, spend time outside, listen to live music, watch the sunset. Your time here is limited — make sure to slow down and enjoy it.
The happiest people discover their own nature and match their life to it
That is a direct quote from Ray Dalio, who is worth over $17 billion and one of the 100 wealthiest people in the world. But for him, the goal was never about making money. “Meaningful work and meaningful relationships were and still are my primary goals and everything I did was for them,” he says. “Making money was an incidental consequence of that.”
Ultimately, life and happiness boils down to finding the right fit for you. It is essential to know your own nature and operate consistently with it.
After all, the number one regret of the dying is “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.” Money won’t mean much if you aren’t living a life that is in line with what you want. And making money in a way that conflicts with your personality or values will just make you feel trapped. To live a truly fulfilling and happy life, Dalio says what you really need is “the courage to be true to your truest self, no matter what other people want you to be.”
It is these lessons that are most important to truly live well. Don’t feel the pressure to always hustle, grind it out, and get ahead. It is far more important to savor life, spend quality time with others, and pursue your own unique path.
If you do that, you will achieve the right kind of success.
Andrew Merle writes about living well, including good habits for happiness, health, productivity, and success. Subscribe to his email list at andrewmerle.com.