Success and Happiness

“Take up one idea. Make that one idea your life—think of it, dream of it, live on that idea. Let the brain, muscles, nerves, every part of your body, be full of that idea, and just leave every other idea alone. This is the way to success that is way great spiritual giants are produced.”

— Swami Vivekananda (1863–1902)

Success means different things to different people, but people can be successful and happy. For the majority of human beings, a modest lifestyle might suffice. For some, success means having an abundance of money, raising genius children, paying off a mortgage, or winning in the Olympics. The religious may claim success as God’s love enabling his or her life in our temporary existence. The path that leads to success begins in earnest when we realize that our higher spiritual needs are at the apex of all other human needs.

The highest success imperative is to understand that a common fate links people and nations, hence the need for a ‘spirit of cooperation’ rather than self-interest and accumulation of superfluous wealth. Success is not a state of having or being but a state of doing and experiencing. A brain surgeon feels a sense of success after performing major surgery as his or her patient experiences a full recovery. The humanitarian with little or no financial reward may consider his or her success as service to others.

Although happiness is not necessarily synonymous with material success, material success can engender temporary happiness. Likewise, happiness can produce success. There is a fundamental difference between success and a successful living. We share with these five essential principles for success and living a successful life (Reference: Figure 1).


Figure 1.

The above five essential principles for success and living a successful life underpin both material and non-material success. As a composite, they encompass an ideal formula for achieving a more permanent basis for a successful life. No human companionship, no material possession, no money, and no power can fully satisfy the hunger of the human spirit for a successful life and happiness. Fulfillment can come only from a higher “search for spirituality,” but there is no doubt that when we achieve material wealth; we engender a measure of worldly success that may lead to temporary happiness.

We often misappropriate the “pursuit of success,” self-gratification, and material wealth for the “pursuit of happiness.” The five principles briefly defined herein provide a “new” understanding of the “pursuit of success” that can bring lasting happiness.  These five principles are mutually inclusive.


SPIRITUAL SUCCESS is the preeminent success criterion. It is to recognize and benefit from our higher “spiritual existence” as we give and receive the love of humanity. Spiritual success is the ultimate way to look at success through the prisms of love, peace, mercy, compassion, fairness, kindness, empathy, justice, generosity, and nonaggression against others. Spiritual success does not preclude entrepreneurship, creativity, or innovation; instead, it enables physical growth and progress in the physical world.


MORAL SUCCESS is to acknowledge the existence of a higher moral authority and to live with an awareness of our responsibility and accountability to fellow human beings. “Moral success” is to recognize that moral duty, moral courage, moral persuasion, and moral obligation are at the front and center of leadership. Moral success demonstrates leadership capacity that elevates, enlightens, and empowers those who led and those who follow.


SOCIAL SUCCESS is to recognize our interdependent relationships with people and nations that lead to our higher social goals. “Social success” begins within the family, the first society. It is the testing ground for greater social responsibility in challenging environments in the public and private arenas. Social success manifests in the capacity to build and maintain social relationships with others who are not within our native social circle.


INTELLECTUAL SUCCESS is to recognize and to strive to achieve the highest levels of education and intellectualism of which each of us is capable. “Intellectual success” is critical for managing human affairs and the environment that supports our physical existence. Intellectual success gives the capacity to make life-saving and life-transforming decisions as leaders in family, public, and private life. Educational success is not substantially intellectual success, though there is a relationship between the two operatives.


PHYSICAL SUCCESS is to recognize and practice healthy living that fosters a work–life balance to promote spiritual, mental, and physical well-being. “Physical success” is having the capacity to create and sustain a healthy environment for the preservation of a sustainable ecosystem. Without such a global perspective on material success, the eco-system that we rely on for life to flourish on Earth will become a threat to the existence of all life.

In addition to these five essential principles, when we put the following seven keywords into action, they further increase the potential for success and living a successful life in every facet of life, including marriage, family, and business.


  1. Empathy (understanding)
  2. Loyalty (dependability)
  3. Integrity (honesty)
  4. Knowledge (understanding)
  5. Competence (know-how)
  6. Transparency (openness)
  7. Dependability (reliability)

Material success does not always shield us from adverse effects of individual failures such as personal and business bankruptcy, separation, marriage failure, family breakdown, economic collapse, and corporate failure. Can human beings achieve a balance between material success and living a successful life? One might consider winning a competition, the purchase of an exotic automobile and executive home, acquiring a doctoral degree, or becoming the CEO of a Fortune 500 company as hallmarks of success, and they are the remarkable educational and material success we seek, but is there a finite limit to material success? What we may regard as success is not substantially a successful life.

The critical question is how do we translate material success into successful living and imbue happiness in our lives and the lives of others? We must look outwardly at the plight of others, and ask, “What can I do for him or her?” The real secret to success if one exists is not by how much more we can acquire, but by helping others to climb the ladder of success as well. The “search for success” ought to underpin our desire to be on a continuum of happiness and not merely a search for financial and material wealth.

We rarely reflect on the critical need for moral and ethical leadership, good governance, and stewardship of the Earth and its diminishing resources as salient factors in the “success equation.” Likewise, how often do we consider that our actions are instrumental to the happiness or unhappiness of others, in particular, those close to us such as our spouses, family members, and friends? An interesting observation in our journey is that people’s desire for success seems to take on a very personal character, limitless and void of external influence. Although success requires entrepreneurial drive and determination, we must be cautious because the “pursuit of success” rarely comprehends the five principles discussed earlier at the foundation of our pursuit.

The essence of success is to be conscious of the needs of those whom we rely on as the ladders (metaphorically speaking) that we climb to reach the pinnacle of our success. More notably, we put forward that the beauty of success is also in the creation of ladders (metaphorically speaking) of opportunities for others to climb to the pinnacle of success for them as well.

Success from this perspective is wholesome. It helps to moderate the concentration of wealth in the hands of a few and among wealthy nations as the “wealth gap” (Reference: Figure 3) widens concurrent with the “unhappiness gap,” which causes discord between the haves and have-nots throughout the world. The dilemma that faces the human family is that we are always pushing the envelope of what we know and what we can do. Every day our knowledge of the world increases. We understand more and more the workings of our bodies, the delicate interactions that sustain our environment, and the majesty of creation. Despite our advances in the physical realm, we are not making similar progress in the spiritual dimension — the wellsprings of successful living.

We live in a closed system. Advances in healthcare, engineering, and space exploration do not change the fundamental truth of our existence, which is that there are finite resources available for the sustenance of all humanity. The luxury of life in the West is a stark contrast to the poverty, hunger, fear, despair, and unhappiness that persist in some of the underdeveloped and developing nations of the world. Can we say that the measure of success is wealth imbalance? Is it a measure of material possessions, or power over others? Certainly not! Success is living a higher life of purpose spiritual, moral, social, intellectual, and physical.


Writers, Errol A. and Marjorie G. Gibbs are avid readers, inspired researchers, speakers, and mentors. Their journey, which began with their “search for happiness,” led along paths to Optimum Happiness (OH). OH is a “higher value proposition” for human survival as a viable species than our typical notion of happiness. These same paths await on your “journey of discovery.”


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