Thoughts on success

“What counts is what we are, and the way we deepen our relationship with the world and with others, a relationship that can be one of both love for all that exists and of desire for its transformation.” ~ Italo Calvino. (Written fifteen years after a visit to Montgomery, Alabama on the day of the protests that led to the early civil rights movement, and after meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr.)

We understand the world through happenings and relationship, according to the quantum-gravity physicist Carlo Rovelli, author of Seven Brief Lessons on Physics. Rovelli has referred to the human self as a "huge wave of happenings,” and he recently said on the radio show On Being: "So, to better understand the world, I think we shouldn’t reduce it to things. We should reduce it to a happening, and the happenings are always between different systems, always relations." 

Relationships, love, transformation, understanding, a continuum of happenings: Might these dynamics really be what our lives are about? I ask this question because I am interested in success and the makings of success. I ask because our conventional pursuit of success seems often measured by clearly defined outcomes that are fairly static. But might it be true, instead, that success is a dynamic force that flows within the natural changing forces of our lives, a constant happening as well?  

Happiness infuses my notion of success when I approach it as a continuum. A relief almost. I have no real answers, however, so here are just a few more thoughts. 

Science knows that the brain performs better when we are happy: It is happiness that leads to success. Not the other way around. And yet, so many of us fall into the trap of "If only..." and "Once I have..." "If only I can land that job." "Once I have more money." We habitually make success a must-have condition for some form of future happiness. But studies suggest that entrepreneurs who measure their success by such extrinsic outcomes experience high levels of anxiety and depression even though they are successful by these conditioned standards. In contrast, those who measure their succes by intrinsic aspirations, such as helping others or simply learning, feel a deep satisfaction and well-being. 

What can we learn from this? Success, perhaps, shows up in the moment that we let in the whole caboodle of happiness within us. Such an approach to success would only exist in relationship, in the here and now. It would indeed be a process of love and transformation. And it would spring forth from gratitude. It could still be measured, I think. But it would be measured by understanding, awareness, deep fulfillment. 

credit: Alejandro Alvarez |

credit: Alejandro Alvarez |

Is it true? We could find out. Because accessing happiness as a condition for success is actually something we can experiment with.  For example, here is an excellent list on how successful people go about it daily. For me, it starts with catching moments of happiness and joy. Just as they occur. Like little bubbles. Like a thousand little successes, small yet radiant. Noticing them long enough to feel gratitude and then letting them go. Really, when I take the time to notice, I catch happiness in my personal, creative endeavors all the time. For sure, I feel tingling bubbles of happiness with certain achievements and results. I feel deeply happy with meaningful experiences - a beautiful evening with friends, a wedding, a deep moment with a loved one. I feel big bubbles of happiness and fulfillment when I tap into silence and spiritual quiet. That adds up.

What if we let these bright sparkling moments of happiness spill into each other? What if gratitude spills over? What if we catch bubbles like little kids and set them free again? What if moments can bolster and reinforce each other so we almost literally begin to explode with thrilling waves of happiness? What if success is the amplified product of these waves? What comes up for me is that this kind of success requires a constant, vigilant and open-minded adjusting to the wondrous moments of our lives just as they are and it is simply delicious. It's a wild and ecstatic dance that is still at its center. For me, it's a fun experiment. 

Our most successful leaders know this already: It really is all about the dynamic contentment of practicing happiness. Carlo Rovelli again: "Here, on the edge of what we know, in contrast with the ocean of the unknown, shines the mystery and the beauty of the world. And it’s breathtaking.”  

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