Does Success Bring Lasting Fulfillment?

07.14.23 |

Are you happy? Are you doing what you really want? Are you financially successful? Can you do the things you want and have the things you want?

These are all important questions, but they also need to put into perspective if we are going to organize your life around what matters most to you. 

Success vs. Fulfillment

Most people define their lives around success. This is an extrinsic – or external – measure of things we want, like a nice car, a beautiful house, a grout position at work, and a healthy bank account. It’s what we are told we need to be happy. These things are all external measures that we can divide into three main categories:

  1. Attractiveness: How appealing am I compared to others?
  2. Fame: How important and well known am I?
  3. Wealth: How rich am I?

The interesting thing about each of these external measures if you are using these to judge how successful and happy you are, it won’t work.

You might be happy for a while. Money brings power and material possessions. Fame opens doors and may lead to showers of gifts. A beautiful image provides for glamorous dates, marketing opportunities, and lots of attention. But it is never going to be enough if you are using these extrinsic motivators to judge your happiness and whether you’re fulfilling your reason for living.

The models that measure their lives on their attractiveness have plastic surgery, continually diet, and live an extremely unhealthy lifestyle that isolates them from a real life. Later in life, as their beauty fades, if they have nothing else that brings them joy, their lives will not have a happy ending.

We can extend this perspective to actors and other famous wealthy people you see on the news and in magazines. Some of them are, of course, actually thriving. They are continually getting better at what they do and they are using money not as a goal but rather as a means to have greater experiences, to create amazing experiences with family and friends, and to eliminate the stress that a lack of finances causes.

You may have picked up on this already: All of those reasons are intrinsic, so they are actually about fulfillment rather than external success.

Intrinsic Fulfillment

Fulfillment is the sense that my life matters – I have meaning and purpose, my days are filled with something I love to do, and I have a strong sense of pride. I am doing what I am doing because it is my choice and I enjoy sharing with others. I have a strong sense of purpose, and I am connected in a meaningful way to others. These reasons give meaning to life and show that what is important to me is guiding me to a sense of satisfaction and joy.

This is a big topic that we explore more deeply in the Habits of Health (pg. 465), but we can summarize intrinsic motivation and fulfillment into three categories:

  1. Having satisfying personal relationships
  2. Growing as individuals
  3. Making contributions to your community

The research is clear and it has reflected my own experiences with my life and the interactions I’ve had with people I respect and admire: Those that are healthiest focus on the intrinsic measures of fulfillment over success. They benefit from extrinsic success, of course, but those successes are fuel for what really matters to them, which are all intrinsic sources of fulfillment.

You’ve probably already started to think about how these insights apply to you and your life, so grab your journal or hop on a call with your coach and delve into this topic more deeply to find what really matters to you and what really brings you fulfillment. Your life will be much more rewarding and far healthier because of it.