Being Happy vs. Being Successful

Imagine reading a story titled “The Relentless Pursuit of Booze.” You would likely expect a depressing story about a person in a downward alcoholic spiral. Now imagine instead reading a story titled “The Relentless Pursuit of Success.” That would be an inspiring story, wouldn’t it?

Maybe—but maybe not. It might well be the story of someone whose never-ending quest for more and more success leaves them perpetually unsatisfied and incapable of happiness.

Hmm. I’d really and truly love to read a book called The Relentless Pursuit of Booze. I’m reading a history of absinthe at the moment which is frustratingly boring and humourless. I mean, how can you fuck that up?

But that aside, I agree with the thrust of this Atlantic article about “success addicts.” And thanks to reader Graeme for sending it in. It offers more than a glimpse into the psychology of workaholism. Dopamine hits aside, what they’re really seeking is distinction, and damn everything else.

The author of the piece confesses:

I once found myself confessing to a close friend, “I would prefer to be special than happy.” He asked why. “Anyone can do the things it takes to be happy—going on vacation with family, relaxing with friends … but not everyone can accomplish great things.” My friend scoffed at this, but I started asking other people in my circles and found that I wasn’t unusual. Many of them had made the success addict’s choice of specialness over happiness. They (and sometimes I) would put off ordinary delights of relaxation and time with loved ones until after this project, or that promotion, when finally it would be time to rest. But, of course, that day never seemed to arrive.

To this, I say: you’re already special, don’t worry about it. And if you really want to strive for something, it’s important that you define your own form of success instead of comparing yourself unimaginatively to others and thinking in terms of money or power. If nothing else, you’ll be better prepared should you ever need to make quickfire genie wishes.

Look for a quieter, private sort of success that won’t damage you or the people around you or the world, one that won’t violently slurp up resources like a tornado.

And remember this: the real horror of the pursuit of the conventional idea of success would be to actually achieve it. Nobody likes the dirt bags at the top. Imagine living at the top of the High Rise tower. I mean, what a loser. Imagine having a framed photograph of yourself shaking hands with Donald Trump. Even with politics aside, that’s really gross.

A brand new volume of Escapology is at large. The Good Life for Wage Slaves is available in deluxe paperback and ebook editions.


Robert Wringham is the editor of New Escapologist. He also writes books and articles. Read more at

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