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Ask HN: Does success in work bring you happiness?
122 points by Crazyontap on July 17, 2017 | hide | past | favorite | 104 comments
I read it all the time that success and happiness aren't related but to me there is a strong correlation and this makes me miserable :/

Can anyone here who feels truly happy tell me otherwise.. What is the source of your happiness? How about people making $1m+, did that increase your happiness?

> Can anyone here who feels truly happy tell me otherwise..

Not sure if this helps answer your question, but I felt truly, blissfully happy the first few months of my arrival at America (from India).

I'm not sure what it was, maybe the fact that I achieved the 1st step of a childhood goal / dream. Or maybe it was the new experiences, living in a foreign land, finding cleanliness, orderliness, and a very efficient system in everyday life that was largely lacking in India.

But I really had nothing. Just 2 suitcases and 500 $ in borrowed money. I learnt on the 1st day on my job (on H1B visa) that I was there only for 2 months to fill in for an American woman who was going on her maternity leave and that I would be sent back to India * after that. I also didn't know anyone here, was told by the company that brought me here that I need to vacate the hotel they put me up in within a week, had no credit history, nothing.

I think that fact that I had no obligations -- financial or otherwise -- was part of it. Didn't have a mortgage, loan on a car, was single, no dependents to take care of, and very little physical possesion.

Nearly 2 decades later, I'm still trying to get back to that state of happiness. Like others have stated here, I don't think money has much to do with achieving 'happiness'.

I think the pursuit of happiness is purely a western-culture phenomena...

[ * hustled and extended my stay beyond the 2 months by doing the work of another citizen co-worker who offered to get the manager to extend my contract beyond 2 months if I "fixed" her code... 18 years later... I'm still here :) ]

I think the American "pursuit of happiness" is a coupling of fulfillment and happiness.

I don't know what a "happy" life is - I have yet to meet a sane person living in a state of happiness. A fulfilling life, though, that comes from finding "meaning" - a feeling of significance in the world, a cause worth fighting for. It varies between individuals and often involves struggling as well as happiness.

Work can be fulfilling for some people, but for other people is just the paycheck that pays for the things that give them happiness (eg family).

To put it like the wise Karl Pilkington:

> I think happiness is a bit like a cake. If you have a cake every single day for the rest of your life, you’ll get sick of it. If you’re happy every day, you’ll get sick of being happy… that’s a good saying actually. Happiness is like a cake. Have too much and you’ll get sick of it.

Even if that's not the most joyful quote, on some level it did make some sense to me.

I made several million dollars in Silicon Valley and retired at age 40. Now I travel perpetually but I have a couple of "home bases". Every day, I'm thankful that I have my health and a full day to do whatever I want. Time is finite, and living off investment income gives me freedom from having to sell my time for money. I own 100% of my own time now.

I saw a sign once that said, "My hope is to die in a staff meeting: that way, the transition from life to death will be subtle." I understood the sentiment 100%.

Even by Silicon Valley terms, I had a great income and a good career. But I will never return to it.

You're living the dream, man, congratulations. If I ever were to have enough to "draw down until death" I'd do it in a heartbeat. I don't understand these people who have millions of dollars and still get up, go in to work and sit in their 9:30 TPS report review meetings every day, when they have the means to simply not do it.

I guess, at some point, for some people, compensation becomes not a means of survival but some kind of grotesque "life scorecard." Screw that.

As an alternative point of view, even if I netted the $25m at which point my quality of life peaks, I wouldn't stop working.

I love what I do. Money is nice and all but I'm an inventer at heart and all the money in the world isn't worth the rush you get by building something and getting people to use it.

I plan to make a lot more than my fuck-you-money goal of $25m because then I'll be able to do more insane things.

They perhaps garner a sense of usefulness and productivity from working, even if it is illusory? The periods in my life where I was the most idle were also the most miserable as your mind can turn against you.

It's easy to build a lifestyle that you feel is "essential" while spending almost any amount of cash. Some people continue to sit in those meetings so they can continue paying for a very expensive lifestyle.

One of the things that was interesting about reaching this level of wealth is having personal relationships with people at these companies before they became rich, and then seeing what they did after they became rich.

A few, many in senior management, live for the thrill of the hunt. They want to find their competitor, beat the crap of them, watch them slowly die, bury them, and then dig up the corpse and do it again just to make sure their competitor is really dead. I get why these people stay in the game. Getting a metric ton of money is just a by-product of the hunt. They reminded me of this Conan [1] clip.

Some of them, like me, just decided that they had enough and wandered off the ranch and did their own thing.

Some of them, as you point out, just have a lifestyle expectation that requires a large amount of income. This prevents them from accumulating the capital to become financially independent. This describes a lot of the people I know. They were dealt cards that would have allowed them to escape the matrix, but didn’t care about escape or didn’t understand the game.

I think a few just wouldn’t know what to do if they left the ranch. One guy I knew who was in the first twenty or so employees at one of my employers that made it big, who is probably worth $50M or more, just keeps going back to his cube every day writing software. He drives a Volkswagen and lives in a modest house. Why he’s still there is beyond my capacity to understand.

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Oo9buo9Mtos

I keep reading about similar successes and I don't imagine there is a better deal than spending your whole day doing whatever the fuck you want. If you have a family, is there a greater relief than knowing you have enough time for them? But also recognise that success of this kind is rare. How many HNers might be living a similar dream? I would be surprised if it's more than 100-200 and mind you, HN is a place where a good fraction are smart people who potentially can build a valuable business.

Damn, I wanna have your life when I grow up! :) That is so amazing and inspiring!

The trick is to define "success" in such a way that it drives your happiness, rather than adopting external definitions of "success" that have no relationship with your own personal sense of self worth or life pleasure.

"Money" won't likely drive your happiness. Not entirely.

"Increasing shareholder value" also won't likely drive your happiness. But enjoying the camaraderie, or seeing your leadership improve peoples lives, or the sense of accomplishment that comes with setting and achieving goals... those things can lead to happiness. And a lot of times, you can achieve that kind of happiness even if you miss your quarterly numbers, or a startup hypothesis doesn't pan out.

"Reading all the books by Author X." "Getting a Ph.D." "Coaching a little league team." "Completing project Y." "Publishing paper Z." "Taking a 2 month RV trip across europe." "Earning the respect of my spouse or partner."

Money, shareholder value, "assets"... are only a means to certain kinds of ends.

I'm an academic. My frequent collaborator has a rule that I find very wise. Following this rule, we celebrate when we submit an article for peer review or send in a grant proposal, not (only) upon receiving positive news (article accepted for publication or proposal funded). That way, the happy occasions are based on our own goals and rhythm, not depending on outside confirmation. I'm sure you can generalize the underlying principle to other kinds of work as well.

This reminded me of this Mitchell and Webb strip "Working from home" https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=co_DNpTMKXk

The premise is that you could end up 'celebrating' your business away and learning how to manage your 'celebrating' to only do 'it' when milestones have been reached.

SFW but would suggest headphones if in an open plan office due to the topic.

A study of people who got into devastating accidents leaving them paraplegic or quadroplegic found that after 6 months, those who were generally happy before the accident returned to being generally happy. Those who were unhappy before the accident got worse or stayed the same 6 months later.

On the other end, people winning the lottery also reverts to their pre-lotto happiness level after 6 months.

I guess the point is that you probably won't find happiness in work success if you're currently miserable.

There's some newer studies that helping other can make you happier, like this one published in Science:


The effect is not huge though. A meta study on this showed that it's only about 1 point on a 10 point happiness scale.

If you really are not happy, consider these common and proven recommendations:

- Get plenty of good exercise, at least 30 minutes, 3-4 times a week

- Get enough rest, 8-9 hours a night

- Check your vitamin D levels and supplement if needed.

- Eat healty and avoid alcohol and sugar

- Spend time building social support, do not neglect your circle of friends and family

- Get into a routine, for example go to bed at the same time every night and wake up at the same time every morning

And of course if you feel like this for more than 6 months, see a psychologist.

Success in work does not make one happy, or at least in the long run does not do so.

It has been discussed in great detail in book The Power of Now if I remember correctly, that there are two types of happiness, pleasure and joy.

Pleasure is short-term and results usually from external events. Winning a lottery, having a party, making your first million, and etc, these will bring great pleasure to you. However, pleasure fades away fast, and you will not feel any difference after some time, no matter a day, week, or a month. The life goes on, and you still have all other things to make you stressed and feel miserable. This is why people say money cannot make one happy.

Joy is, on the contrary a skill that can be learnt. It is an attitude to be content with your current state, and be just a little bit above that "neutral" mood, no matter in what adversity. With this skill, you would not worry about if you would succeed in your job, because it is irrelevant to your happiness.

Both The Power of Now and Stoicism stuff like A Guide to the Good Life: The Ancient Art of Stoic Joy can give you some hints on how to live a joyful life.

Does success in work bring you happiness?

Yes. More than anything else.

It's not the money part. I don't make much. It's the influence and seeing my work actually shift how people act and live their lives - especially seeing where it will lead.

I have three kids and when I talk with other parents, they say that they get the most joy out of seeing how they can positively influence their kids.

What about positively influencing millions of people, consistently over the long run with your work? You do that through impactful, meaningful work. Maybe it's software or maybe it's building houses, or providing access to capital for low income people, or working on vaccines, or any number of the millions of things that influence people at scale. That's the difference, at scale.

You can't do scale with personal relationships, you do it with work. Define work however you like (charity etc... it's how you spend your time)

How could that not be the key to happiness?

I think that's a very important point that most people tend to ignore. In many discussions, people simply assume and take it as an obvious fact that family >> work. I think this is only true for some kinds of work, and generally only true for not-so-fulfilling jobs. It even feels like it is somewhat arrogant , or maybe just narrow minded, to focus solely on influencing their kids or having a stable relationship. What about the rest of the world? It's not OK to simply forget about it.

The problem with that is you usually don't see the results of your work. Let's say you work for Mozilla on Firefox - even though you only make trivial contributions (because a single person cannot do much), those contributions multiplied by millions of users can be significant. The problem is that you have no way of experiencing it - you can only imagine it/think about it. In a similar story, I've heard about environmental lawyer who was doing a ton of good for the environment but personally felt crappy, because he was just spending 10+ hours a day shuffling paperwork or in front of a computer.

why is it so important to scale this up?

how about just being a great dad. having a real impact on a person rather than a very very very diminished one on many?

why is impact important, rather than doing something with much care and quality?

why are numbers important

> How could that not be the key to happiness

Happiness isn't always about scale.

Ambitions, e.g. for success at work or sport, are natural and come from the urge to have a high social ranking. After all we're first and foremost social beings. So our position among others is inherently important to us. But we're not living in clans any more. Civilisation has made things difficult. This kind of success (to assert ourselves over others) is overly glorified. Athletes are looked at god-like. Money and fame are overrated. To some extend it's natural to try to be successful, but the world is full of extremely successful people who find themselves being unhappy.

Those people often see that helping others is a true source of happiness.

Matthieu Ricard is a quite famous monk having published a lot of interesting stuff:


This one is on the topic:


There's something to that. Society optimized for fluidity instead of social bond. I guess relationships were invisibly perceived at a cost by the economy and it pushed to dillute it. But more and more I believe that knowing how to team up and grow together is one of the most valuable thing in your existence. Our souls are highly "social" constructs.

Yes, if it is creative success and not merely monetary success.

I am of a personality type that I don't think I could be happy without creative success (loosely defined as, having done a good job on creating things that would not exist if I hadn't made them). In a previous phase of life, I was not successful at making things, and I was pretty unhappy. Now I am successful at making things, and am much more happy (though I have also developed several mind-management skills as well).

If you are talking about "1m+" as the sole gauge of success, I don't think that means very much.

Could you share what mind-management skills you have focused on developing?

What have they solved, or alleviated for you?

> (though I have also developed several mind-management skills as well)

I would really like to hear about them. :)

All the small successes bring me happiness, both in work and outside it.

Before my current job, I spend about 2.5 years trying to get a PHD (in physics), and I quit. There were several reasons, but a major one was that I didn't feel I had any successes.

Since then I've been doing software development, and there are small successes and wins every day, or at least every week. A feature is finished, a bug is fixed, a colleague tells me that something I wrote saved them time or hassle, or even that they enjoyed in the new UX.

My wife told me I was a different person in the new role: much more relaxed and happy. I agree.

Now I have two children, and it's another source of a stream of small successes that I can enjoy. First steps, first words, first shoe laces tied, first cucumber cut by themselves etc. They are not my own, but I'm sufficiently emotionally attached to them to derive happiness from theirs.

I'm the same. Was working on a PhD in physics, quit after a year, started working in software development. MUCH happier now.

I feel that way too many people start a PhD because that's the easiest path to take after the master's thesis.

It's surprising how "achieving" makes you feel. I finally found an issue in a system I was modding the other day. It's been months since anything I wanted to create work, and was very low. That single tiny success made me very very happy.

Maybe not work specifically, but making and hitting medium-ly stressful goals and an overall sense of agency in one's psychological mindset will generally be correlated (causative) of general well-being.

Having a certain amount of money, social standing, and meeting goals will generally help enable this.

But so too can one feel trapped in particular professions, if you don't feel you're adding any value, or if you lose that sense of active goal setting/valuing/achieving cycle, then it doesn't matter what other people's impression of yourself or your job or success are...a tendency towards depression in such a state would not be peculiar...

Thing is: happiness is elusive and relative.

Some people will feel miserable after achieving some professional success (either for having used much time pursuing what they now consider vanity, or for still finding they're not successful enough). And some people will seem happy regardless of anything that happens to them, professionally.

If you feel miserable because you're not a successful founder making tons of money now, we can't really tell you whether achieving that will make you happy or not. There are all kinds of stories.

I guess it'd be good to understand why you crave for professional success in the first place. Is it to please your family? Is it for self esteem? Is it to make money so that you can party a lot? Is it so you can make money to give to charity? Is it because you want to spend time with smart people who value your decision and make you feel good? Is it to be more seductive? Is it because you love working? Is it because you want to make your dent in the universe?

Professional success is only a mean to fill something else. For me, I couldn't care less about changing the world, or success for self esteem. But I am still fairly driven to make money. My goal is to be more free and still have some comfort. As in, i don't want to depend on anyone: have my own place, have enough money to not have to make decision because I lack of it. I could reduce my needs, but I also like my comfort, living in a nice city, etc. So right now, i'm playing the professional game, but only because I'm looking for a way out.

Success in my work brings me happiness but not via money. It brings me contentedness and satisfaction which in turn makes me happy. After all, I have a desire to be competent at whatever I apply myself towards and master the responsibilites I'm assigned. The satisfaction from my success comes from the reputation amongst peers, demonstrated mastery of fields, knowledge that my responsibilities are in order and working well, etc. rather than from the amount I earn every fortnight.

Where money does factor in to it, though, is as a tool to reduce the barrier of entry to other things I enjoy outside of work. In that sense, I don't feel inadequate if I'm not earning a certain amount and my satisfaction in my job isn't tied to receiving a certain bonus or whatnot. However by doing a good job - motivated by my desire to be satisfied with my work - I get rewarded with more money which enables me to do things like travel the world, afford luxuries, etc.

NB: I'm not one of the $1m+ club, so maybe something changes there, but I don't feel it would given my situation.

Me? No.

Everyday workplace successes like good reviews, raises and promotions don't make me happier. If they did, I would work hard and try to be successful.

I also don't get a kick out of winning, or satisfaction from completing a project, or a sense of comradery from pulling all-nighters with people. If I did, I would go seek it.

Instead I work 35 hour weeks and keep a moderate, negative vacation balance that I fix through pay cuts whenever possible. I go home to read good books, cuddle my girlfriend and go on long hikes with my dog.

It's worked, and I'm very happy.

I had a similar experience. I've had a few different jobs but found them all basically unfulfilling in the end. I cut down my monthly expenses drastically and now only work a maximum of three months per year - I do my old job on a contract basis. The other nine months of the year I work on my relationship, travel and write (but not for money). I've never been happier and don't miss full time work at all!

Accomplishing things can bring temporary happiness. Money up to a certain point will make life easier, but after that it doesn't make much of a difference. One of the easiest ways to make yourself happy is for your work to be meaningful. If you feel like your work is helping other people that can lead to more lasting fulfillment.

Success is fun and should be celebrated. It's definitely something that's nice to achieve from time to time.

What is problematic is when you look for something in success that success can't give you. If you don't like yourself, success won't make you like yourself. If you need more connection in your life, success won't necessarily give you that feeling of connection. If you're looking for proof that you have value, there is never enough success to prove it.

Success is great, but may lead you into doing things that are suboptimal for you, if you chase it. I think it's only really satisfying if you're chasing something more meaningful and then you are successful at that. The other advantage if you're doing something more meaningful, it's meaningful even if you're not successful.

Don't chase "success". Chase happiness. If you chase success, you're chasing a moving goal post. You will never truly be happy until you get content. Your frustration may come from the fact that you have high expectations for yourself. Slow down and enjoy the little things, that morning coffee, that lunch with friends, etc. Chase every work opportunity and do work hard, but don't chase success to obtain a state of permanent happiness.

The fact is, money in a bank account, once you get enough to live, is just digits. Add a 0 at the end of it, that doesn't make you happy. And shopping therapy is a very short fix.

I find I'm much happier running projects with 0 expectations of deriving $ value. E.g. free games, free software, happy hacks. Once money is involved, expectations jump.

Typically chasing happiness directly makes it harder to reach it

That really depends on whether there's a restraining order in place or not...

I don't understand people's obsession with happiness. It always seemed like a very weird and arbitrary metric. Orgasms makes people happy, perhaps we, as species should come together and fund/help build the constant orgasm machine, we will all be very happy.

It's a very, almost uniquely, western thing and has some roots in liberalism (philosophical not political), ironically heavily influenced though a bastardization of the epicurean philosophical tradition. There are plenty of philosophies and traditions that understand otherwise. Stoicism being one of the biggest counterbalances.

Pleasure and happiness are two very different concepts

A quick search tells me pleasure is temporary happiness; a constant orgasm machine should be able to fix that.

Happiness is much more profound than pleasure, it is not simply long lasting pleasure.

We already have a constant orgasm machine, it's called heroin. However, heroin users don't seem particularly happy if you ask them, no matter how much pleasure they have

That's because it's not a constant machine, and is in fact interrupted constantly, sometimes by an early death. If we actually come up with a machine that is truly constant and stable, it will be the end of civilization as we know it. People might think that they would never fall for it and would never just stay in a room hooked to something like that but that comes from a misunderstanding of the power this hypothetical machine holds. Looking at the lengths a heroin addict will go to secure diminishing returns should give anyone a hint of the terrible potency of such an invention.

There's a short story published on the web that, if I remember right, examines the concept, called The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect. Note: some of the story is extremely graphically NSFW.

Success is awesome. When I've been on successful teams, everyone is happy everyday. Even when people have things in their outside life that cause problems, at least they have 8 hours a day where they are successful. I was on one team that just couldn't lose. No matter what we did, it was fantastic. When you hear about "hyper productivity", it's a true thing. It happens. After that team broke up (after an unfortunate internal company reorg) I've spent the rest of my career trying to find it again. Came close a few times, but never nailed it like that.

Of course, that answers your question literally. I don't know if it's what you meant because my answer had nothing to do with money.

The book "So good they can't ignore you" has some very good insights. For example, the author talks about how it help some people obtain flexibility and control, which in turn makes them feel more happy or living more meaningful lives.

Yes, I've read Cal Newport's book. However I don't entirely agree with his ideas. I am good at what I do, and very experienced at it, but the whole job and industry I was in left me cold. However, it is true that you can build up "career capital" by being good at something, and you can trade that in for greater flexibility, but just because you are good at something doesn't mean you will enjoy it (I know that from experience). What I did was trade in my career capital for benefits - initially that was working from home, then going contract, then going down to three months a year. I don't enjoy the three months on contract, but it funds the rest of the year doing things I do enjoy and that do make me happy.

No. Also eating and sleeping don't make me happy. But lack of eating and sleeping make me decidedly unhappy.

This is the same type of thing. In other words, success doesn't make you happy, but it's hard to be happy without some level of success.

Success absolutely brings me happiness, it's the culmination of a ton of hard work paying off.

The difference is, you can't let the failures and external factors bring you down. Money won't bring you happiness, it'll give you some stress relief to go make your own happiness, but if you're in a bad situation and making $20K, $120K, or $1.2M you're still going to be unhappy.

Take pride in your craft, in doing what you're doing to the best you can- but once things are out of your control, it's useless to let those things affect how you feel about yourself.

The only times work failures have gotten to me are when I thought that I didn't do a great job, or I could've gone over and above and that it might have had a more positive outcome.

More importantly, you're entire self worth and happiness can't be derived from one thing. If your personal identity is centered around your career, your significant other, or your sports team, etc., you're fucked. We're complex animals, you should be getting your self worth and happiness in bits and pieces from everything you do and all the important relationships in your life.

Have hobbies. Anything, try shit until something sticks. I woodwork, ride my bicycle, shoot archery, and fish. I have my own start up and am in the office by 630, have a family with 3 kids under 5, so I get creative to find the time. Ride my bike to work, teach my kids how to build stuff, shoot archery mid day at the range while I'm noodling over work stuff, and the fishing- well that involves a lot of pre-planning and buttering up the wife.

Here's the thing: I'm not really good at any of those hobbies. I mean, I'm above average at best, but I'm generally barely knowledgeable. I'm okay with it, it's a no stakes learning situation, unlike all day at work. It feels good to learn and not have it cost me thousands of dollars, or to eat dinner on a dining room table I built with my own two hands.

I would think it's important that you get satisfaction and happiness from your professional successes, but I think it's more important you're getting it elsewhere too.

Feeling good about what you do will likely make you happier than "success", I know plenty of successful people who are miserable or still unhappy.

And unsurprisingly, not liking what you do will deprive you of happiness

That's simple and accurate. Success is not an absolute value.

I don't know how popular this will be, but yes.

I've made $1M - $1.5M the last few years. As someone who grew up poor, that feels like a major accomplishment. Even if I can't talk about it with most people (only my mom & wife know), it's still a source of internal pride.

We have small children & I've fully funded their 529s. Knowing they won't have to worry about that, even if things go south for me, makes me feel like a good father/provider.

My mom is getting on her age. She doesn't have a lot saved, as it was hard being a single mom raising a large family alone, let alone saving for retirement. She used to tell me she'll just work until she dies & she was determined to never be a burden. The only reason I've shown her my W2s is not to brag, but to tell her, emphatically, she can (should!) retire and I will take care of her.

Oddly, the first years I made that much, I found it very stressful.

I kept thinking "I'm going to fuck this up & regret it for the rest of my life. Tomorrow they're going to realize I'm an idiot & fire me. I just know it." And not like a every so often thing, every month or two. Like every day or two. It's still there, but not as bad.

We've kept our lifestyle & expenses the same. We've been saving as aggressively as I can. Taxes suck, but on the upside, we're not that far from being financially independent. The only exception is at Christmas, I buy my wife something expensive jewelry wise. She's low maintenance, puts up with me, is a wonderful wife, and it's nice to spoil her.

Even knowing that's close is a change psychologically. Even if full independence isn't far off, even closer is theoretically being able to take a 9-5 job, or something much lower level. What's weird is knowing you could walk away from your job, changes the mental stress on you. In fact, knowing that, I think I'm much more likely to stay in my current job.

I think you could debate if it's money itself that is making me happy, or what it lets me do for others I love dearly, but for me it's basically the same thing. I couldn't do the latter without the former.

I'm a pretty happy guy, but I work at it. I stop to appreciate the landscape. I try to enjoy each bite of food. I pay attention to the strain of my muscles while riding my bike. I sing a song for myself while I'm doing anything tedious. Also, whenever I'm upset I remind myself that whatever was bugging me isn't really going to stop me from having a good day tomorrow.

I worry about my health and my family/friends' health. Otherwise, I'm care free.

Work? No. Friends make you happy. Good colleagues, good customers, good neighbors.

I don't think that success at work makes me all that happy because what success means at work is defined by someone else.

Of course, other people might feel like it matters to them and if so then I don't think there's anything wrong with that. However, I think it's really important to see that there are many things beyond your control, so if you try your best and still fail, I like to think you should still find happiness in how you hopefully grew as an individual.

I think this is a really good question.

I've been asking myself similar questions, and made a site for it at https://www.deepthoughtapp.com

I've been using this as a way to understand myself better.

Success at work does bring me happiness. But happiness is fleeting as well. There are moments of frustration at work, which bring my mood down. I believe the feeling of progress drives a lot of happiness.

I'm trying: - to better to deal with the frustration - to accept accept frustration as the cost of happiness. I don't think there can be happiness without frustration. - to understand my rhythms of highs and lows better - look at small successes, daily successes, personal growth - find fulfillment. What makes me fulfilled. - Understand my motivators. The need for autonomy, mastery, and the purpose of it all.


Studies have shown that beyond a point money in and of itself doesn't boost happiness. In addition, the social aspects of work are highly beneficial - and the lack of social interaction leads to depression for many retirees. I know people who are very successful in their jobs and very well off who are absolutely miserable. I know others that don't earn a lot - they earn enough to be secure and live well - but derive tremendous happiness from their job.

In addition, the answer depends on your company, work environment, the impact of your work on others and the type of person you are. Does success at work mean elevating your team, helping customers solve their problems and improving the lives of others, or does it mean stabbing colleagues in the back, getting customers to buy products that either aren't helpful or even hurtful to them and making the lives of others worse by harming them or the environment? Are you the type of person that feels better improving the lives of others or enjoys the feeling of deriving benefit from tricking others?

Success in anything challenging gives you confidence in your ability to shape your own life. Success helps you avoid "victim thinking" and gives you a greater ability to take risks. That in turn is an _opportunity_ to be happy, although there are plenty of successful-but-miserable people out there. It doesn't have to be success at work though - could be success in a hobby.

I never feel that good when I make someone else rich. I have yet to know how it feels to make myself rich but I'm sure its not that bad.

Look at it this way: You spend an awful lot of your life working. If you have a choice, why spend that time doing something that doesn't make you happy?

Life is experience. Not numbers. And, as some of us know, it -- or our health -- can be taken away at any moment.

Living with some planning for the future means if and when you get there, hopefully you will enjoy it.

But don't forgo happiness now for some potential future. A successful life is enjoying now, the majority of the time.

(Nothing's perfect, and there will be down times. But too much down is a bad sign. And, it becomes self-reinforcing. Don't fall into that trap.)

All that said, having a decent income does help. If I'd moved around more in my career, I might have actually been happier and gained more financial security.

In short, take care of yourself, including your emotional self. That's probably the surest road to personal success, however you end up defining it. Positioning yourself to work from a position of strength, and with positive support.

Success or happiness doesn't come or stay easily.

Things don't get easier, you just get better. As you get better, you get challenged in new ways. How you call with challenges often had a big impact on happiness and enjoying success.

Ones work in life isn't always tied to one's life work.

Finding a balance between work, success, happiness and money evolved greatly in my 20's to my 30's.

You become more well rounded as a result of meeting people, new experiences and lessons learned.

Happiness for me includes not needing to look at what others are doing, and be happy for others at the same time. It's something I have to earn and keep earning.

Earning catches up when you get good at adding value and building the discipline to deliver day in and day out.

I have my interests and discovering I can persue them in most opportunities is invaluable, I can just focus on getting better at solving problems and adding value.

I started working for my current company about a year back, and I was given ownership and the freedom to develop my work which I found very lacking in my previous company. I took this opportunity to learn a lot, I took ownership, and I started doing things that were not in the pipeline in my free time that would benefit the company. I was really happy with what I had built, and I was rewarded for my work. I was happy!

That was nearly six months ago. Now, working at the same company I am not very happy, probably because of burnout, lack of senior developers or decrease in the learning rate or possibly because of how confused I am right now.

Professional life can bring you happiness, but I am doubtful if it can do that for a very long time. It's always the personal life that determines how happy you are.

It does, but there is more to it. I think it is very personal unfortunately. I personally feel perfectly happy sitting in nature; I hear crickets around me and it could not be more perfect. But that alone would not do it for long; I need some challenge and for the last 30 years that means writing code for me. Writing code in nature is all I ever wanted. I can see that is different for others and that others would hate my life. So you have to find what it is for you. My hobby is my work and after all these years it keeps me going, more hours than most people would put in and it makes me happy. I am lucky to live in a country that won't let people starve, so even if I would not get paid for what I do, I would still do it.

What makes me happy is doing meaningful work.

My job as a software engineer is not particularly meaningful or fulfilling in the grand scheme of things. But it pays well, which will at some point allow me to retire and work on something meaningful to myself and society.

Yes, I was in the same boat. However, don't do what I did I stay in the industry for too long, at least on a full-time basis. Leaving that unfulfilling work was the best thing I ever did.

Feeling like you're a bad fit for your job or that you're underperforming can reeally contribute to stress and anxiety.

For me, I'm happy when I'm pushing myself to get deadlines done and to achieve goals that I set for myself... but also focusing on self care when I need to, and giving myself creative outlets outside of work (which for me is music and cooking).

So, success contributes to happiness, but it's important to try to strike a balance and not let that be the entirety of your life. There are some people who enjoy throwing themselves into their work, so for them it's a matter of working somewhere where they feel like their efforts are rewarded.

Increasing shareholder value does not make me happy or unhappy, for what it's worth.

Generally I think million dollars won't make you happy. It will increase your mood for a while and then it will plateau. Past achievements don't bring lasting happiness. That's just how humans are built.

Therefore, happiness can be achieved only through things that you do daily. Hence, the million dollars can facilitate happiness if it allows you to do things which you like - like camping, base jumping, cooking - whatever you like. Or even your original job, if you were so lucky to have a job that brought fulfillment.

The key to happiness, is therefore knowing yourself and knowing what you like.

Not necessarily. If you despise the field you're in and can't bring yourself to enjoy your work at all, even making millions won't make your work life a happy one.

Of course, I suspect a lot of truly successful people make up for that a fair bit by doing stuff they actually enjoy outside of work. But if your job generally isn't something you enjoy doing/your skills don't match your desires, then it can pretty miserable regardless.

There's a reason some people give up a great job for something that pays far less that they actually enjoy.

Success building products and organisations has brought me a lot of happiness. I genuinely enjoy doing it and have been relatively successful professionally as a result.

Unfortunately, a side effect of this has been more frequent engagement with groups of people who, inadvertently by virtue of their own success, have optimised "talking about building things" over actually doing so. This has reduced my happiness somewhat as I struggle to improve my communication, without succumbing to imitation.

If we take "success" as accomplishment, the question now falls to fulfillment. If it's self fulfilling, then, I believe you feel happiness within.

Studies show that happiness increases proportional to salary up to USD$70,000.

Beyond that dollar amount, there's no increase in happiness.

Now, salary isn't necessarily predictive of "success," (as per your question...) so the above fact may not necessarily be relevant... but I present it for what it's worth.

EDIT: I haven't evaluated the study I cited (perhaps erroneously) as fact. But I'll leave this comment here for it to be evaluated.

I really wish this would stop getting spread as much as it is without any qualification to it.

> Studies show that happiness increases proportional to salary up to USD$70,000.

One study shows this, and it's this one[1].

The study was conducted using polled responses, and discriminates between "happiness" and "lifetime satisfaction."

In particular, the study has the following conclusions:

1. money and happiness are positively correlated up to $75,000, but are then uncorrelated,

2. money is positively correlated with lifetime satisfaction, without any particular point at which the correlation ceases, and

3. more money is not positively correlated with less happiness at any point.

In other words, what you said is not at all supported by the original literature. Despite the way in which this study is usually used to support an argument, more money is probably better than less money at any arbitrary amount for overall contentment, given that "lifetime satisfaction" increases arbitrarily and "happiness" (which I interpret as "good mood") doesn't decrease.


1. https://www.princeton.edu/~deaton/downloads/deaton_kahneman_...

Also, $70,000 is meaningless unless you specify your location. There are places in the world where you can live like absolute royalty on $70k/year. There are places where $70K will get you an extremely comfortable life with no need to budget. There are places where $70K is solidly working/middle class. And there are places where $70K qualifies you as low income.

I think it's a bit more nuanced than that


Well I believe the study said it was diminishing returns after 70k rather than no more happiness

Happiness is an epiphenomena.

Success at work usually makes me feel temporarily satisfied, but rarely happy as such. Happiness sneaks in of its own accord.

It's certainly not my main source of happiness. I think I would be able to just as happy without having to work, if my needs where otherwise meet.

However, given that I do need to work to make a living, not being successful would make being happy much harder. I can't imagine happiness would come easy to people who experience failure after failure at in their job.

I think if you're working on something that gives purpose to your life, the "success" (in whichever means) derived from work, can indeed increase your happiness. But if you're working on something you don't believe in, solely to pay your bills and "make a living", then probably the correlation will not be there...

I've spent a /lot/ of time working through this and for me - Yes, 'Wins' at work directly correlate to my overall happiness both at work and home. I even graph my happiness at least 3 times a day and if its above or below average I try to tag it with something like #workproblems or #workwin

For me, having an idea for a project, and having that project work out well definitely makes me happy...for a while. But it all depends what you want to achieve. A goal of earning $X per year seems a bit hollow, so unless that means a lot to you personally, it's unlikely to make you happy if you achieve it.

happiness is overrated.

so is striving to become successful at work. i can hardly believe that i'll be on my deathbed complaining that i wasn't successful enough at work.

but rather, I would be mostly filled with happiness and joy because of this long and crazy trip called life.

i think if you are easily manipulated by any shit people throw at your face you will feel pretty good while being successful, which generally means that people conceive you as better than someone else. but i see this as a very retarded view of the world, as you might be good at doing one thing, but there are so many things. I just imagine the kid trying to be good at something so they their parents are happy because they are good. When things doesn't come naturally, but at a cost of being superior, or even at cases inferior, it's a bit shitty imho.

I grew up as a kid where my parents would only compliment me when I completely beat up other people in everything. I grew up in this and have attained a lot of things which people from my social circle wouldn't ever dream of, to later see that I did all that because I was actually grown with a very shitty perspective of life, where everything I do it must be to win and I could only be happy that way, I was trained that way.

I'm still unwiring myself from this bullshit, and I think everybody should. the world got too much sick people with this mindset already.

while someone is a awesome co-worker and got promoted to management, the other is strong and struggling with a relative with cancer, meanwhile the other is caring about his son.

i see this as no competition at all, success is just perception and perception you don't care about the details of the ones who didn't "make it". and the ones who didn't "make it" might generally be way better than you in general, but having a hard time, not coming from the same background and so on.

so I don't think anybody can reliably look for success that way, and it's kinda sad people who does believe in that.

Trading present day happiness for happiness-on-deathbed is just today-you making sacrifices for deathbed-you. The deathbed-you will appreciate the impressive stories and memorized peaks of archievement, not everyday peace of mind.

I think this depends entirely on how you define success. Having $1m in itself does nothing for happiness.

But the process of "getting there" certainly does. The drive, overcoming challenges, achieving small "success" every day.

Humans are not happy when everything is settled. We crave struggle.

"Try not to become a man of success but rather to become a man of value" --Albert Einstein

Success at work is no guarantee of happiness, but lack of success is a fairly reliable way to be unhappy. It's definitely true that pouring your life into a company owned by someone else is not a great way to feel happy, but also, you're there 8 hours a day (or more) 5 days a week (or more), poor performance endangers a lot of things low on Maslow's hierarchy of needs like affording food and shelter, and you're surrounded by humans who are unintentionally bombarding you with a value system.

I am generally pretty happy (in a long-term sense), and to be honest, I'm unemployed and job-hunting at the moment, hoping to sign an offer this week. I certainly make far less than $1M per year. I quit my old job because I was unhappy there and starting to be unhappy when I went home, too: I was working long hours and trying to be very good at what I did, and I didn't get the sense that people around me (and my management in particular) valued the things that I was trying to be good at. That is, to be clear, not a criticism of management: they needed different things out me than what I had gone into the job expecting them to need. But it took me a while to really get to terms with how much I had let my sense of self-worth become defined by the value system in place at my work, even though my engineering skills and mindset had remained largely as they were. That dissonance got to me very badly.

I think that's the risk with trying to be happy by being successful at work: it's always an external metric. You can be very successful for years, and laid off the next day, and you always know that in theory you can be laid off the next day.

The things that make me happy now are all internal metrics, that is, they're accomplishments that I myself see as accomplishments, instead of hoping my management will acknowledge. I'm happy about the friends I have, about how much I've been cooking instead of ordering food, about how I've been getting better at singing, about the job prospects I have, about this video game I've been playing, etc. Some of them also have external measures (my voice teacher also says I've been getting better, the video game is letting me advance to new areas, etc.), but I can tell for myself whether I'm doing well or not, and - importantly - I'm continuing these things because I find them enjoyable, not because my voice teacher or the video game says I'm doing well.

Regarding money: on the one hand, I have enough savings that I could just quit my job and start job hunting, and that definitely made me happier than job hunting while staying at my job. On the other hand, I'm expecting a significant increase in compensation regardless of what offer I sign, and I don't think that's made me noticeably happier; I already have enough money that I can do things like quit my job without a new one lined up. I do think that you can feel unhappy from a sense that you're underpaid, but that again ties into external metrics: you know you're doing a job worth some amount, but you're being told it's worth less. I don't think being overpaid (for the work you do) is really going to bring you happiness, unless you have some plan to save up money and quit - and some plan for what to do with that money once you do and why you believe you'll be happy doing it.

Why it does make you miserable? Success is good, you can be successful, and you can be happy.

For me, I get most happiness in my life from: 1) discovering new things, and 2) successfully making new things, in that order. Why do you think there's anything wrong with that?

This is a quote that resonated with me:

"Success is being in charge of your lifestyle and creating something you're proud of, surrounded by people you love."


I'm truly happy:

My quality of life improves constantly albeit quite slowly because that's something I work on. I found work that's challenging and rewarding without being stressful. I am working towards a long-term plan and it's going quite well.

Define success? Define happiness? I get a pretty nice dopamine hit when I solve a hard problem. Money doesn't make me happy but maybe that's because however much I get, it's never enough.

I think it's better to search for joy than happiness. If you find joy frequently, you'll be happier. Find a way to get off the hedonic treadmill, and you'll be happier.

Thank you everyone for your replies. The thing i learn most is that for most people success has nothing to do with money. It gives me a lot of new perspective about success.

Happiness = Progress toward your goals. That's it.

The implication, of course, is that you must never stop having goals and making progress to remain happy.

It brings you respect. For some people that equates to happiness. For others happiness arises from large amounts of unstructured time.

What I'm about to say goes completely against what society and the majority of those engaging in virtue signaling claim is the key to happiness.

I am quite happy at the moment, and it started back in 2004 when I wrote off my family and commanded them to never contact me again. It turns out removing negativity in your life, whatever the source, no matter how well intentioned you may be in helping someone, goes a long way to being blissfully happy. It is said that "you" are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. So consider if your relationships are a positive of negative influence on your life. Remove the negative influences, no one is immune from being removed despite what society tries to feed you about how important "family" is.

In 2008 I went to the CTO of the company I was working for at the time, told him that I was planning to quit even though I had just started 3 months ago and proceeded to explain how my manager could be doing their job better. I listed out how I would run things. A week later I had my manager's job and a $13k raise, several months after that another $20k raise. Needless to say, the student loan debt that plagued me since graduating in 1999 was paid off in 5 months. As were the rest of my debt. Never underestimate how not having any debt can lead to real happiness.

In 2011 I quit the last "real" job I've had at 36. I was not and am still not independently wealthy. I have no family to rescue me if I go broke. At the time I was planning to make an iPhone game, 6 months in coming up to speed on Objective-C, drawing graphics the job I quit needed help desperately I threw out a price of $7500 a week. To my surprise they went for it. So I put the game on hold and worked for 9 months. Accumulating $240k for the year. The money really did make me happy, because of how quickly it piled up. No scrimping and saving and gradually building wealth. Thinking of doing that makes me want to honestly eat a bullet. The old... yeah, save, work 40 years, 2 weeks vacation a year, plus having holidays when the rest of the country does too... die two years into retirement thing. No thanks... Anyways 9 months in and they try to hire me full time as the director of software engineering. 5 years earlier that would have been a dream job. But I really didn't want a "job" anymore. So I quit, took a 10 day vacation to Cozumel with my girlfriend and when I got back spent 2 years working on my game.

I was just about to release the game and then apple announced new ipad and iphone resolutions. So much rework, especially artwork. Then an old co-worker needed help, I told him I would if I could work from home. I was living on Lake Tahoe at the time and no way was I going back to the Bay. Especially since I was on the Nevada side and there was no way I was paying California a dime in income tax (Luckily it was a New York CO so they don't try to tax you out of state until you've made $1 million). The last year I was there I paid $18,600 to California for NOTHING. I got no benefit for that tax I paid to the state. Despite anyone who would argue with me to the contrary. As a note I currently live in Wyoming, and there is nothing more I want from the state, No income tax is glorious.

Anyway long story short, consulting gigs, where I work 100% from home drop in my lap every year or two. I make so much money on those that it pays for 2-3 years of not working.

The key to happiness is not working (for a client or a job, I like to work on projects of my own that have nothing to do with software). While simultaneously having money to do or buy whatever I want (within reason).

I never want to commute to a job ever again. After breaking up with my girlfriend of 5 years I have no interest in getting into another relationship. It's like "I've been there done that" and just don't have an interest anymore. When I'm working on my own projects I get so wrapped up in them I lose track of the time, I don't know what day of the week it is. I might talk to the neighbors or chat with an old friend once a week. I may not talk to or see another human being for a week and it doesn't bother me at all. It might be 10 days before I drive somewhere, it's amazing how long a car lasts when you barely use it.

As a side note, I have no interest in charity it does nothing for me, it's like the part that's supposed to fill me with joy is missing with regards to that. I don't want to contribute to society or do anything that makes the world a better place. And yet my happiness, contentedness, blissfullness has not lessened since quiting my last job in 2011.

So contrary to the frequently parroted "secret" to happiness that involves sacrifice, family, children, being part of a "team". I'm here to let you know, some of us have found happiness doing the opposite...

Indeed. Finishing some piece of work that will be used by others to make their lives easier really makes me feel good.

After 20 years of doing this: nope.

Seeing my kid win his first bmx race? Yeah, that totally did.

I feel happy because I am very successful in my job, my investing, with my family and with my few friends - all those are very important, because life is not only work...

It helps me feel ego-gratified, not happy.

My Personal experience tells me that Money alone doesn't bring you happiness.

Around two years ago, I was working at a middle tier SW outsourcing company, which payed me a respectable salary. Nothing great but it was quite enough for me.

Then I landed a job at a hot startup, which had already raised its first round. They offered me nearly double the salary that I was getting then. I didn't think twice and accepted the offer.

Two years have gone by and all the extra money that I have made in that time has not brought much change in me or my life. I have started spending more freely, but that doesn't make me much happier than I previously was. Maybe it's just me, but money doesn't seem to do it for me!

Maybe you weren't sufficiently poor before?

When I went from making $45k/year to $75k it wasn't as a huge a difference (i also liked the job better which made me happier, but money wise the happiness difference didn't seem that significant). However I'm self employed which means my income can vary a lot more than an employee's.

And when I got sick and couldn't work for a few months, and as a result suddenly went from $75k to maybe ~$30k you bet your ass it made me VERY unhappy - constant money stress, fought a lot more with my wife, staying up at night worrying about paying rent, etc.

It was a real eye opener into the lives of the working poor.

So I'd phrase it as "lack of money can cause unhappiness" rather than the other way around.

Yes, and the reverse is true. I am unhappy much of the time, as I have found conditions in the tech industry to be, shall we say, suboptimal.

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