Success implies getting more of the good things in life, which people think of as more money, a larger house, finer things to put in the house, and so on. But assuming that these will make you happy is shaky. The world's wisdom traditions warn that following the demands of the ego personality, with its narrow focus on "I, me, and mine," won't lead to happiness. The field of positive psychology generally agrees--after a certain point, once finances are reasonably comfortable, more money and the things it buys don't make people happier.
It's no simple matter to combine success and happiness, in fact, but the world's wisdom traditions do offer a strategy. They recommend leading a conscious life. The long-term goal of the conscious lifestyle is inner growth, gong beyond the selfishness of the ego-personality to reach higher values like love, compassion, selflessness, and empathy. The problem is that these worthy goals are easily postponed while attending to the short-term goals associated with success.
Plenty of driven, ambitious, competitive people devote their prime years to getting ahead, letting happiness more or less take care of itself. Such a sharp focus on external achievement contradicts the conscious lifestyle. One is outer-directed, the other inner-directed. To have any hope of being adopted, the conscious lifestyle must bring short-term rewards also. Rarely is this pointed out, still more rarely does anyone carry through.
The common link is consciousness itself. I argue that expanded awareness improves both halves of existence, inner and outer. If you look deeper into the world's wisdom traditions, there isn't a division between the two. The world "out there" reflects the world "in here," and in both domains your level of awareness determines how your life turns out--not just one compartment of life but its entirety. As you move out of constricted awareness, which its built-in insecurity, anxiety, and narrow perspective, it's only natural that success and happiness will be joined. The one won't be achieved at the cost of the other.
We all know people who cannot exist without their work and who devote everything to career and achievement. Society praises and rewards such people, but society doesn't reveal the disorganized, empty lives that high achievers often have or their higher risk for stress and the damage it causes over time. Quite often, even when constricted awareness makes it look as if everything is going your way, your path through life is like a train in the night, seeing the track ahead through a single headlight. What lies to the left or right is unseen, and there's no hope of jumping the rails.
Jack Andraka - Tapping into the hidden innovator: An Open Access Story
Courtesy of YouTube/The Chopra Foundation Sages and Scientists 2014
I realize that religion has traditionally made the material world an enemy of spiritual advancement. All our customary notions about the spiritual need for renunciation, poverty, and humility are, in my view, too limited and perhaps wrong. It doesn't matter if you choose to be worldly or not. What matters is the following:
- Do you enjoy a fresh stream of new solutions and insights?
- Are you in touch with who you really are, which is beyond the roles you play?
- Can you see a situation past your own point of view?
- Can you empathize with others and genuinely feel where they are coming from?
- Do you feel connected to a reality larger than yourself?
- Can you see the underlying purpose and value of your existence?
- Are you following a vision of life that can sustain you for years to come?
To answer "yes" to these questions doesn't make you a saint - it makes you someone who has seriously walked the path of expanded awareness. Each of these things I've listed are of immense value to an innovator, entrepreneur, manager, or CEO. Awareness isn't a rubber band, but it needs to be stretched. This can't be done by force; nor can you rely on life lessons as you struggle to the top. Success ultimately depends on who you are, not what you do.Which is why the world's wisdom traditions speak about the need for transformation. At this moment, what does your life consist of? At bottom, it consists of input and output. You find yourself responding to a given situation — the input — and you do, think, or say something — the output. For the vast majority of people, the output is automatic, reflexive, and mostly unconscious. I'm not saying this to demean anyone. It's a spiritual axiom that everyone is doing the best they can from their own level of consciousness.
If you are asked to cook a soufflé, the result will be different depending on your level of culinary skill. The same holds true for thinking, speaking, and doing. They all reflect your level of skill, although "skill" is too limited a term. Awareness is all-embracing. It includes everything you are and all that you have experienced. But the beauty of the human mind extends much further, because your awareness also embraces everything you have never thought or said or done, all the hidden possibilities that need to be awakened before you really discover who you are.
This domain of hidden potential is the richest reward of expanded awareness. When you consider that Henry Ford started out as an apprentice machinist and went on to run a failed automobile start-up company after his investors lost faith in him, his immense success later running the world's largest car company depended on a vision that kept expanding, sustaining him despite external twists of fate. Failure turns into opportunity exactly this way, by incorporating the setback into your awareness, processing it unflinchingly, and emerging with a bigger vision.
If that sounds too idealistic, consider the poison dart hidden in worldliness, or attachment to external success and failure as the sole measure of achievement. In that scheme, losing makes your awareness contract. Every loss of money, power, and status is like a loss of self. Awareness can be expanded in many ways. The most important are these:
- Silent reflection and contemplation.
- Communing with Nature
- Seeking higher guidance.
- Associating with admired people who serve as mentors and models.
- Studying the great saints, sages, and seers.
- Identifying with your inner self and not your external achievements.
- Living by a higher vision of life, and of who you are.
- Placing importance on our own inner growth and spending time on it.
- Keeping up with the most far-seeing thinkers in your field.
- Being open to change, not fearing the unknown.
- Being comfortable with uncertainty and the rewards it offers.