Today I talked to my mom and I realized that she was not that excited about the great things I am doing. That is because she doesn't care that much about achievement. She was way more invested in my tired look, my emotional battles, and me distancing myself from the notion of love….put simply, my happiness.
So I asked myself:
- Was I happy today?
I certainly made good progress in both eCommerce and self-education. I was tired but stayed accountable and on track. My life design was great: I spent time with friends, played volleyball, read books. So, man, I am doing pretty well. If I looked at it now from the perspective of me last year, I would be impressed with my transformation.
However, I am not impressed with my happiness these days. Considering the amazing givens I have and have created for myself, I could definitely be enjoying life more. This made me think of how we are playing two separate games in life: the game of achievement and happiness. The lines are blurry, the modes are intermixed- the distinction is arbitrary but helpful for navigating life.
My foreign background gives me a global perspective on these two games. When I think of Europe and the Post-Soviet space, I see people trying to live their lives. People work because you need money to live their life: go through life in the company of friends and family. So Euroasians are very passionate about life. When I think of the American world, I see people working to do something. America is passionate about work, doing things, being productive, successful. It's a generalization, of course. People travel to Europe to experience life, to the East for deep experiences. People come to America to conquer, to sell, to achieve. For Eurasians, work is a necessary backdrop to life, but life is in the spotlight. For Americans, life is a backdrop to work. Work makes you move across the entire country, leave family, friends, start over, work a lot, alone, above all other things.
Naturally, there are exceptions and a bunch of corrections to this analogy. However, we can see how both worlds are dealing with the problems of diving too deep into one game. The rest of the world is looking at America for its products, brands, success stories, and wealth. People are trying to send their kids to America to give them better opportunities. Eurasians argue that happiness is the most important, as it is foundational to a meaningful life. Americans suffer from being overworked and undernourished with happiness. Americans argue that work is key and other things will come along, as capitalism is driven by the progress of individuals' work. My world faces the problem of quality, achievement, scale, and opportunity.
Having either just happiness or achievement is not worthless. But it is true that a single asset doesn’t holistically make your whole self. Unlike many of my fellow citizens in Uzbekistan argue, I have formed an opinion that lack of opportunity to do what you want largely limits your happiness. So having either is not worthless but cannot be fully appreciated without the other.
- Why is it not enough to just be rich/successful?
- Because external success only takes care of a subset of my needs.
- Why is it not enough to just be happy?
- A great achievement is a great desire to do or be someone. ”Desire Is a Contract You Make to Be Unhappy”, as Naval proposes. Because great big things require work and dedication, it’s possible that you cannot be perfectly happy all the time. (Based on my assumption that you want to do something exceptional, which is NOT applicable to everyone).
- What is true wealth?
- It is the perfect combination of both.
Complementing each other, happiness and wealth create a full and meaningful life. I have never thought about this distinction before. I have been mainly optimizing for progress to my goal of wealth and achievement. Frankly, this is my way of achieving happiness, I thought. But recently I am changing my mind.
These games are different yet interrelated. I can see myself seeing some of my former acquaintances in a couple of years being plainly happy: In a good marriage, with kids, not doing anything special. And no matter how wealthy I will be, I will look at them with jealously and scorn. So success in one game doesn’t guarantee, although potentially makes it easier, success in the other.
The skill of being happy and creating happiness is different from the skill of figuring out and building wealth. I can optimize myself to be productive and driven on a well-chosen path towards wealth but it doesn’t make me happy on a daily basis. Similarly, moments of happiness don't always translate into material wealth. There are loving people who are charming and enjoyable to be around, who would make awful teammates. There are partners you have just for work because they aren’t warm in everyday life.
I made the distinction between two games to teach myself to navigate happiness one more intentionally.
If I am playing basketball, it hurts me tremendously to be even exceptional in either just running or shooting. So I make the distinction between shooting and running to clearly define the area for improvement.
Ultimately, both blend into one master game. The greatest teammates are the ones who are also dearest friends in life (not necessarily in short term projects). Doing work that you love both makes you happy and achieved (maybe you have to wait or create that opportunity for yourself). The best customers are the ones whom we made happy and not just satisfied.
Interestingly, coming back to my historic-economic examples, it was curious to discover that the reported top ten happiest countries are the Northern European Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, The Netherlands, etc. Those counties are pretty high up economically but also managed to retain a level of "happy" culture, specifically "a sense of community that comes from social support, the joys that come from increased generosity among citizens, and the overall happiness of people who lead a healthy lifestyle ".
- There will be people who are incredibly happy. There will be people who are very achieved.
If you are so successful, why are you not happy?
- Why are you so happy if you have not improved anything in this world? (Again based on my assumption of wanting to produce a large positive impact)
To not feel jealous of anyone or anything, which is my definition of happiness, I have to find the perfect utmost balance of both, mutually maximizing each other. A great dribbler, a great shooter, and a great runner in one beautiful picture, where everything fits.
I can hear someone saying:
- No, you have to realize you have weaknesses. You can’t be great at everything. You cannot have it all.
To which I would respond:
- The life game is THE ONE thing where I have to get both right. I cannot afford to just be happy, because I want to achieve tremendous things that might require "a contract to be temporarily unhappy". I cannot afford to just be wealthy, because the happiness quotient of my life is a huge metric for a good life.