A Simple Path to Happiness and Success

“What is the meaning of life? To be happy and useful.” ~Dalai Lama

Success is something most of us want. But we want happiness, too.

I think we go about these two important things the wrong way. With some simple changes, I believe anyone can become both happy and successful.

The Conventional Success Story

A man, dissatisfied with his life, wants to become successful, and, therefore, happy.

So he seeks out a millionaire. The millionaire is the head CEO of a Fortune 500 Company. He has fancy cars, many possessions, and most importantly, a huge mansion.

His business is the leader in his industry. It's safe to say, he's a conventional success.

Let's call the first man Cody and the millionaire Richard.

Cody asks Richard “How do I become successful?”

“Walk to the beach with me,” Richard says. “I will teach you the secret to success.”

He agrees and they proceed onto the sand. Richard continues walking into the ocean. Cody is a little confused, but he follows.

Water is now up to their shoulders. Richard turns, and pulls Cody underwater.

Cody is terrified.

He flails maniacally. He scratches. He kicks. He elbows Richard. He uses every bit of his strength trying to get this man off him.

But it's no use.

His seconds are passing away. He wishes. He prays. He struggles even harder.

But he is becoming lightheaded. He knows he's finished. He looks out from the water one last time…

But then he is above water. Richard pulled him out.

Cody gasps for air and spits out water. “What th… What the hell was that for?” he yells.

“To be successful,” says Richard, “you need to want success like you wanted to breathe.”

Gasping For Air

This story is for the super-achievers—people who want to do great things. We often admire these people. You might even want to become like Richard.

It was my philosophy, too. In fact, that story inspired me more than anything I had ever heard. I thought constantly about it, trying to apply it to my life.

And it worked. The harder I tried, and the more I went through pain, the closer I came to succeeding. My grades improved because I studied late into the night. My website traffic improved because I obsessed over obtaining links. My writing improved because I spent weeks on one post.

The harder I worked and the more I became stressed, the more positive feedback I received. People told me they were proud of the path I was taking.

But in the back of my mind, I couldn't shake that something was wrong.  I was sacrificing too much. My mental and physical health was crumbling along with my relationships. I was under a tremendous amount of stress.  Life and its small pleasures were slipping away from me.

It was summer vacation, and I still hadn't been to the pool. I couldn't sleep because all I thought about was achieving success. I was often hostile to people who I felt were wasting my time.

These behaviors were obviously not good—not for my happiness or for the people around me. But I was fond of quoting, “To be successful, sacrifices have to be made.”

And besides, once I became successful I would become happy, right?

The Transformation

“Let go of the idea that gentle relaxed people can’t be superachievers.”

In the brilliant passage that followed this headline, Richard Carlson, author of Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, explained that not only are happy, relaxed people successful, happiness and peace can lead to success.

It was like a nuclear bomb went off in my brain. A minute of reading had shown me that the conventional tactic to success was wrong.

Horribly wrong.

So let me get this straight: If I am happy and at peace, this will help me become successful? In other words, gazing at clouds can help me achieve my dreams?

I had to try this for myself.

Peaceful Efficiency

I started learning and applying smart habits. I started waking up early and letting go of expectations and goals (instead, doing what excites me). I started reading for fun again (not just out of textbooks), strengthened my body, started running, began to eat natural (instead of out of vending machines), and focused on my loved ones.

I became happy and peaceful. Instead of dreading the day, I woke up excited to start.

And a strange thing happened:

My happiness led to improved efficiency. I was working less, having more fun, and getting more done.

I am at peace, yet I am getting more accomplished than ever. I work less, and accomplish more. My mind is clear and I am full of energy. My work is now full of passion. I don’t work to become successful; I do it because I love the work. In a short period of passionate work, I accomplish more than I used to in hours.

And if I have the opportunity to do something fun, I do it.  My life is happier, and I can go back to my dreams fresher than ever.

I used to stress over every word I wrote. Now I let my writing flow. I still try my best, but I don’t try to be perfect. I actually publish my writing now. And my writing has become better now that I’ve let go of obsessing over success.

My grades have improved too. Now I relax and attempt to enjoy the class. I learn not because of the grades, but to learn, and this has improved my grades. I let go of trying to become successful in school, and that has lead to a better chance at success.

Stress is no longer a major part of my life. Problems that once seemed huge and insurmountable are now much easier. Changing from a person worried about success and who tries too hard has made all the difference. Now I just flow, and anything seems possible.

How to Become Happy and Successful

What is success? I used to want it. Now I’ve achieved it. When I am happy, that makes me successful.

And by letting go of success I have furthered my chances to become what people traditionally think of as success.

So instead of focusing on success, forget it. Try your best and have fun. You will enjoy life and go far.

Photo by Jairen Lau

About Jake O'Callaghan

Jake O'Callaghan is a teenage writer who teaches simplicity and change. His blog Slowchange is about making real, lasting change in a world of fad diets and get rich quick schemes. His other blog zenteen helps teens find happiness and peace in their crazy, stressed lives.

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  • Hey Jake, “Peaceful Efficiency”, profound words in a fast paced world.

    There’s a line I particularly like, “I don’t work to become successful, I do it because I love the work”.
    Many will tell you to stop dreaming and get to work. Keep dreaming!

  • Thanks for sharing your experience Jake. I have what I refer to as my old “$5 dollar” life. In that I never put more than $5 of gas in my car at a time–which I’ll just say got you a lot farther in miles than it does today. Not that I didn’t have the funds so much, but I was too busy changing the world. Busy, busy. I was “going places” and winning.

    Like when I was restaurant server, I learned that running around with a ketchup bottle in my hand, people assumed I was busy and getting something done. There’s definitely a difference between being busy and getting things done.

    In hindsight, most of the need to succeed was a way of avoiding time with myself, looking for outside validation and happiness externally.

    Skip ahead many years and lots of pain and the desperation to finally surrender and work on myself. I can be busy now, but not really; if that makes sense. Like a few years ago I was finishing my MBA, volunteering, taking vocal lessons, doing triathlons, full-time job, etc. But I was better at managing my time and always felt at peace. Taking time to rest, meditate, and just wearing life like a loose garment.

    As the saying goes, “expectations are tomorrows resentments.”

    When you were talking about school and grades, I could relate when working on my masters. If I thought about the overall work or looked too far ahead, I would get overwhelmed. So I broke assignments down into weekly tasks and keep track of them with

    But towards the end, with just a few classes left, I realized I was working towards a perfect 4.0 grade average and started to put pressure on myself. I had to really work at finding that peace and rhythm again and reminding myself to take it easy and enjoy the process of learning.

    I’d say the turning point for me was surrender, humility, acceptance of self, and the experience that anything (regardless of how surmountable it seems) can be achieved one step at a time.

  • May

    Thank you sooooooo much Jake, your post made me in such a  good mood! I totally agree with you, I tried your methods during a while, but I have to confess sometimes things are easier said than done 🙂 

  • Thank you Jake, this is refreshing. Keep it simple & enjoy.
    be good to yourself

  • Dan

    love this!

  • Loved this post. Well done! Love the shout out for “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff” – that was a fantastic book! About this post – great stuff. There’s no requirement for being a super achiever other than you super-achieve. You can be relaxed, work for one hour a day, etc. Well said, all around, Jake!

  • Amanda

    Jake, just wanted to say I’m totally impressed with this article. As I began reading it I was assuming this was written by someone much older, not just because it is well written, but because of its wisdom and insight.

  • Melenaka

    It seems to me to be able to have that attitude is a luxury, that you have no one else to be responsible for except yourself. I long to live like this but as a soon-to-be single mother with two children it feels out of reach.

  • Yadgyu

    If you do not want something bad enough, it will eventually become lost in the sea of mediocrity. People who have grand desires always do better than those who simply pacify needs.

    We all need to eat. We all could survive from a diet of unflavored noodles, plain oatmeal, and water. But some of us would rather have steak, lobster, and champagne.

    Satisfying needs is not enough for me. I need to also satisfy the wants in order to feel alive. I just do not see how a person could trick themselves into thinking they are living a good life by getting only what they need.

    The truth is that you have to want to live. It is not essential that you live. Life will go on without you. But the desire to continue life is what pushes us to pursue grand feats and accomplishments.

    I used to lie to myself. Once I told myself the truth, life started to improve by leaps and bounds. That truth was that money and material possessions are more valuable than ‘satisfaction’ or ‘happiness’ or ‘a life well lived’.

    People actually think that if they can turn off their desires, their lives will improve. But turning off desires is more deadly to the human brain than inhaling toluene fumes. It is very unsafe to try to eliminate desire or even reduce desire.

    The damage done by simply being grateful for the small things is what causes the perpetual cycle of mediocrity to destroy generation after generation of Americans. The seeds of mediocrity and complacency yield a poisonous crop that kills any who eat of it.

    Stop being a small fry and get what you WANT!

  • Anujvir

    I am sorry to say that i don’t completely agree with the article!
    Peaceful efficiency, more or less sounds like a term being used by people who are unnecessarily stressed! I think people tend to mix the two very different words, Successful and Rich. When a person wants only to be rich and aims only at the Money, he or she tends to do things that are otherwise stressful and avoidable. Success is a totally different thing. While pursuing success, money will not matter as it would be collateral. If you wnt to be successful, say as a businessman and you focus on your aim, work with passion and put in all you got, there are high chances that you will achieve what you were aiming for… and even if you don’t, you will end up being satisfied, which will eventually lead to happiness.
    The most simple and yet the most important phonomenon that i have realised, which would keep one happy and satisfied (successful) is the formula of BALANCE.
    When one balances one’s life with the things one likes to do and the things that one has to do, one can achieve a perfect life…. and more perfect this balance, more happiness it will yield, if not directly then in the form of satisfaction

  • Yes it is true that success comes only with a peaceful mind and a happy environment. If you are stressed out you won’t be giving your full energy and capacity to your work. That way you will be lacking the spirits that are needed to undertake tasks that lead to success. On the other way, when you are happy you will be confident to take up tasks and finish it less time that success will walk into your life easily.

  • hey guys, I’m an aspiring blogger and i just started up a new blog and I’m really hoping to be successful and i just recently started my first blog. i will be blogging about 2 times a day. here is a link to my blog and i would really appreciate if you could check it out and maybe leave me some feedback! thank you!

  • What a wonderful story. Learn and have fun. Enjoy Things you do. There are immense pressures from society and not to forget the competitiveness. One can only excel with the path buddha led us to . So beautiful “Om Padme hum” Thanks to the writer and Buddha who Encouraged you to write.