As kids we’re told to dream big, which is wonderful wisdom in theory, but the sentiment gets warped as we get older. Numerous happiness myths become ingrained over the years, and we find ourselves believing that we have to put success above all else. Accomplishments, security, status, and the like become top priorities, whereas being happy is put on the backburner. In fact, many of our behaviors actively interfere with our happiness.
How to be both happy and successful at the same time is the focus of The Happiness Track: How to Apply the Science of Happiness to Accelerate Your Success, a new book by Emma Seppälä, Ph.D., director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education. That the two can go hand-in-hand shouldn’t be such a novel idea, but unfortunately, our culture has yet to embrace a broader definition of success. Seppälä, however, offers alternatives to deep-seated beliefs about the keys to achievement and provides compelling scientific research that supports her new approach.
With its in-depth look about just why the traditional track is harmful, the book offers a much-needed wake-up call. You might just find yourself reconsidering how you live your life.
Here are nine hidden costs to single-mindedly pursuing success, based on The Happiness Track.
1. We Become Less Productive
When we have success tunnel vision, it’s easy to get caught up in a cycle of overworking ourselves, constantly multitasking, and setting ourselves up to burn out. Seppälä cites research that shows that our productivity suffers as a result. It’s a bleak picture: Our brains don’t get a chance to recharge and our ability to focus starts to deteriorate.
2. Chronic Stress Becomes The Norm
It’s ironic that the hunt for success ramps up our stress, because Seppälä refers to chronic stress as “the number one enemy of success.” She also discusses how we’ve been taught to equate the two, with high-stress jobs even being a hallmark on TV shows — think Grey’s Anatomy, Bones, Scandal, and so on — even though we know now that chronic stress wreaks havoc on our bodies. Everything from our immune system to our mental well-being takes a hit, so it’s no wonder we also become less effective.
3. We Lose Some Of Our Appeal To Others
Relentlessly pursuing success requires a plan of action and constantly thinking ahead. Seppälä argues that it makes it impossible for us to stay in the moment, which is to our detriment. Studies have shown that people who are present are more charismatic, so sacrificing this means we miss out on forming as meaningful connections with others.
4. Our Creativity Suffers
When we force our brains to focus constantly, as many chasing success do, they don’t get the rest they need. “If we don’t give our minds a break, they cannot engage in the kind of idle activity that leads to breakthrough creative innovation,” writes Seppälä. The evidence is there: For example, one study shows that taking a break to work on an easy task that lets your mind wander can help you when you’re stuck on a more challenging one.
5. We Exhaust Ourselves
When we constantly push ourselves to the limit, of course we find ourselves exhausted. Not only has chronic stress has been shown to increase fatigue, anxiety often comes in tandem with insomnia. Focusing too much on success is literally tiresome.
6. We Become Afraid Of Failure
If success is our top priority, then naturally failure is what we hope to avoid. Not failing, though, means not taking risks and not trying to develop new skills. “Fear of failure stands directly in the way of success,” writes Seppälä.
7. We Lose Sight Of What We’re Passionate About
Although some of us are lucky enough to have our skills lie in the areas that spark our passion, others have to develop those talents. If we play it safe and stick to our strengths, even when they don’t align with what inspires us, Seppälä points out that we may never discover “enormous potential waiting to be uncovered.”
8. Our Compassion For Others Decreases
Trying to reach the top means having to pass the others on the way. That’s not inherently bad, but, as Seppälä, a Darwinian “survival of the fittest” attitude can emerge. The mentality can corrode our compassion for others, which can be hard on our social interactions and, in turn, our mental well-being. Being compassionate, on the other hand, has been shown to offer a handful of benefits, not least of all a stronger ability to inspire loyalty, trust, and engagement.
9. We Have Less Fun
With all of the negative effects piling up, it should be no surprise that tabling happiness for success means that we have less fun. After all, there isn’t time for idleness and rest, we’re chronically stressed, our personal and professional relationships suffer, and on and on. It’s not a very appealing path; the happiness track looks a whole lot better.