The Paradox Of Success

Working on your goals and then achieving them makes you more unhappy than before, at least for the short-term. In other words, success causes unhappiness. The reason is because success creates a void that steers you towards malaise, confusion, and existential purgatory. It leads to questions like this:

  • What do I do next?
  • What is my purpose?
  • Why aren’t I happier than I thought I would be?
  • What is the point of life?
  • Am I achieving enough compared to others?

Let’s say that your goal is achieving $1 million in wealth. Work towards your goal started with reading business books and networking with successful people. You then came up with a plan for a business and over the course of several years executed that plan to the point where you reached your goal. Your immediate feeling is one of elation. I did it! You’re proud of your achievement and share them with those close to you, but after a couple weeks, you get used to the idea of having a lot of money. The tough questions above seep into your head and you soon notice guys richer than you, making you feel inferior in the face of their greater wealth. The initial achievement was the highest of highs, but it did not last, and you end up lower than you were before you achieved the goal.

Any type of success has a hangover. The higher the achievement, the greater the hangover. Imagine banging ten girls in a month, whereas your normal count is only one (or none). You’re going to feel like a sex god, but then your hot streak inevitably ends and you begin to get agitated and anxious without really knowing why. This is success hangover. Or say you return home after an exciting trip abroad only to enter a mild depression upon resuming your cubicle lifestyle. Anything good you achieve in life must have an equal and opposite reaction that brings you below your happiness setpoint, which is determined by your genetics, personality, character, temperament, upbringing, and belief system. It takes additional time for it rise back up to your basal level.

There are three solutions to the paradox of success:

1. Achieve ever-escalating accomplishments in order to keep the party going. The problem is that you will hit a ceiling where you simply can’t go any further, and the hangover from that may lead to a breakdown because you ignored the tough questions for so long. You proceeded blindly without self-awareness.

2. Adopt a more Buddhist-inspired ascetic lifestyle where you have no goals. This would be fine in days of rural living where life was simple, but today’s urban, consumerist lifestyle makes it close to impossible to prevent comparing yourself to others and desiring the accoutrements of modern living. Even the strongest of us will find it hard to resist wanting a nice smartphone, fast internet, good dining, sex with pretty women, and so on. You would have to physically remove yourself from these temptations by adopting a lifestyle of the ancients.

3. Understand that achievement won’t increase your happiness. Achieve your goals, but don’t expect it to change how you feel about life. I like sex with beautiful women because of the pleasure it gives me, but I know doing so won’t give me permanent happiness. I like selling a lot of books and making money, but I know selling a million books won’t change how happy I feel in my day-to-day life. It’s okay to desire things as long as you know that the resulting high from achievement will always be followed by an upsetting hangover.

I’ve adopted the third solution. I understand that the seed of unhappiness is planted whenever I set out to achieve a goal, and that when that goal is achieved, I will enter a dip that can not be effectively combated with further goal seeking. Instead I will accept the hangover that results, right myself with dutiful work that busies my mind and body (writing, reading, fitness), and proceed with life until the hangover passes. I will accumulate wisdom from achieving the new goal, and appreciate the positive improvement to my being, but I know that my long-term happiness will not budge because of it. We are all outfitted with a program where success does very little for us in the grand scheme of life. Maybe this is too bad for us, but the sooner we accept that fact, the better off we’ll be.

Read Next: All Experience Is Equal

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  • selfishgene32

    There is great wiki link about paradox of hedonism, also called the pleasure paradox,

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Paradox_of_hedonism

  • LuisG

    Brilliant article, I believe it is very logical yet perhaps naive to base happiness on achieving the goals we set ourselves. The question that arises I guess would be, what do I base my happiness on? What can make one happier than obtaining what is desired?

  • Ronin

    I learned my lesson at about 8 years old that when you get what you want, the bloom quickly goes off the rose. This is why people who quickly come into fame or a lot of money implode, they stare into the abyss and realize you don’t get happiness from stuff or fame. The answer for me was to give back to the community, involve myself in charitable work. When you see how much of the world lives compared to us we have nothing to bitch about….I know longer fear the Aybss, I piss into it.

    Ronin

  • Daniel

    Nice article as usual Roosh, but if I don’t go wrong that’s nothing new. When are you gonna release something fresh?
    What about your book about Romania?

  • http://www.huntgatherwrite.com Hunt Gather Write

    But does it make you more unhappy than failure? Try being unsuccessful. http://huntgatherwrite.com/2014/02/24/listless-life/

  • Jac

    It’s called Dopamine withdraw. Your stimulators go crazy when you hit the goal and then as your body returns to a steady state you feel like crap. It’s just like a hit from a drug. When you realize that’s what is going on, it won’t bother you as much.

  • brosbhos

    Process oriented vs outcome oriented. Read http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/barry-ritholtz-outcome-or-process–what-investment-focus-succeeds-over-time/2014/02/21/66e5b4c4-98cb-11e3-b931-0204122c514b_story.html
    It’s focused on business and investments but can be applied to any part of life.
    Focus on the process, not the outcome.
    “It’s the journey, not the destination”
    Those kind of things.
    Easier said than done though…

  • anon1

    wise man say: “you think too deeply Roosh san, think a little less”

  • Daily

    In my life I have changed goals, hobbies, and passions relatively frequently. Really chasing the buzz of achievement. If you start playing piano today, in 3 months youll be doing things you didnt imagine you could ever do. Then you may as well take up a martial art. Then a language. Then learn to code computers. Then Game. Etc.

  • Roosh_V

    It’s a work in progress.

  • Antonio

    I’d love nothing more than being depressed from being to successful.

  • Josh (switch)

    I think your base happiness level–to feel the same amount of happiness that you do at a basic level–simply gets higher with achievements. For example, a kid in high school works the whole school year and then finally summer break arrives. That kid is elated, pure happiness. However, only a day later, he is used to the happiness that came with the summer vacation, and feels like he is not any happier. That is, however, what drives human accomplishment. If everyone would be totally happy with achieving the first goal they set, then there would be very little progress. If I made a million dollars and was content with that, there would be nothing driving me to be more successful. But since after I make a million I feel like i need to make more millions, I accomplish more. It’s very similar to drugs. You get high once, it’s great, but you do the exact same thing again, it doesn’t feel nearly as good, so you take more to get the same high and so on.

  • Chad

    “Anything good you achieve in life must have an equal and opposite reaction that brings you below your happiness setpoint…” So true. Have been thinking about this for quite awhile after taking physics and had always contemplated Newton’s Third Law of motion and how it must also apply to EVERYTHING else in life, and it has proven true every time I think about it.

  • JR

    “On New Years Eve of 1999 Peter and I walked home from dinner in town at around 10.30 pm. The streets were filled with people celebrating the coming millennium, several music bands were playing in the streets and people were dancing to the music. As we traversed one of the dancing areas I felt as if I was dipped into a pool of intense frantic happiness that disappeared as soon as we entered quiet streets again.I had almost forgotten the feeling – this was affective happiness, multiplied by hundreds of people, all being happy for this one night of the year, eager to forget the misery and worry of their normal days. This affective happiness is conditional – one is happy about some event, some achievement, some person. I also noticed that most often this feeling of happiness is dependant on other people joining me in my happiness, because it’s more difficult to be happy when alone.”

    Google that quote and find discover the contents of those writings if you want to avoid dealing with the aforementioned hangovers you speak of.

  • Sick of American Chicks

    Yeah-
    So I thought I was negative when I got out of grad school after two hard years and was like-whatever man. I think the happiest I ever was when I was a teenager and got into massive fight shape for boxing-there’s something inexpressibly grand about feeling confident in your athletic abilities where your footworks like a bunny rabbit and you snap punches out like a whip. I love that vibe. If I were super loaded I’d live like Bernard Hopkins and train all day. WHen I first got a guitar and took lessons I thought I was the man when I learned to play Soundgarden’s “Pretty Noose”. I rememberwhen I was first shopping for a guitar people would look at me like a freak because I sucked so bad but now I always catch a few looks of inspiration when I jam in a music store. Iv’e read hunderds of books so when Roosh pushes it I kinda roll my eyes but I do like learning. King Solomon in the Scriptures had all the money (in todays $$$ it wouldv’e been billions), 100′s of wives/concubines, travel, etc.-and said it was all fleeting and vanity.

  • Sick of American Chicks

    Who’s the hottest now-Romanians. Polskas, Colmbianas, Ukrainskis, or Brazilians?

  • http://www.hardcorevictory.com/ William Rex

    Happiness lies in the striving, not in the achieving.

  • johny

    And people come here and call you some angry misogynist …….. you speak some wise words roosh

  • playboy

    If achieving 1$ million dollars or banging a lot of girls wouldn’t make you happy i don’t know what else can make you happy.

    I think the ONLY secret of happiness is that you would be happy with what you got/achieved and that wouldn’t care if someone is better than you. who cares if someone is richer than you or got more girls? the important is what YOU got not others!

  • guy

    I’ve been thinking a lot about this lately. All my life I thought that the college degree would make me happier; the women; the etc… And I experienced the “hangover” of success many times when it comes with women. I get all the symptoms of questioning what next; a void; a numbness.

    I have at least gained new knowledge from these peak experiences to droughts–I have learned to start to appreciate life in the now regardless of where I am. I am started doing things that I before thought was “a waste of my time”, and learning to enjoy them again (i.e., video games). There is less pressure in my life to seek happiness from the end goal; rather, I realize I enjoy the journal; the now.

    Yes, it’s good to work toward your goals if you want to, but in the end nothing really matters, so you better learn to appreciate your life in the NOW and enjoy the journey. Learn to appreciate the little things in your everyday life that you take for granted.

  • anon1

    thats a motto for life in general really

  • Caveman

    You want me to tell you of an achievement that you won’t ask questions like “What is my purpose?” and “What is the point of life?” afterwards?

    HAVE A CHILD.

    You want a lifelong goal that will make you a FUNDAMENTALLY happy man when you’ve achieved it?

    Have some 5 or 10 children, and have them all properly raised to become successful people.

    Once you’re old, no woman and no other earthly pleasure will make you as happy as having many successful children and grandchildren and knowing your lineage is sure to continue.

    Disclaimer: I’m talking from second hand experience, I still haven’t had my own children.

  • Tokyo Teddy

    Is happiness really the goal? Sure I like happiness, but it is not the only emotion I want to experience in life. I would prefer a varied, complex, challenging life marked by concrete achievements and meaning than one that was simply happy.

    I value happiness, but not as much as most.

  • Giovonny

    Mindgames are a motherfucker!!!

  • Ondrej

    I offer 4th solution: have a vision of yourself, what are your values and who you want to be, then realize what short term, outcome independent actions move you closer to that and do them.
    Example: I am a man who improves his appearance, loves human connections, knowledge and nature. Actions: Workout twice a week, morning routine of grooming, fashion, 30 daygame sets a week, reading 1 hour daily…do them. It isk ind off like the 3rd path except the goals are in fact removed but you still achieve them almost accidentally. Damien Diecke has a great video on How to be happy at 21convention channel.

  • Ronin

    Much truth in what you say, I have two kids and even though my marriage imploded after 24 years when my X developed “Mad Cow” Disease ( Mid Life Crisis) they are a great joy in my life.

  • Anon

    Love your blog. It is natural to get complacent in any aspect of life after getting something you want or worked for. You have to regularly remind yourself what you have and be thankful for it. You can’t take things for granted.

  • Sombro

    I had similar thoughts. Think of success not as a goal or solid endpoint per se, but as a continuing vector. (Is that too “meta”?)

    It’s the difference between pursuing perfection vs. pursuing excellence.

    Wise men know which leads to greater satisfaction.

  • retrophoebia

    Time to start reading Seneca again.

  • General Stalin

    There is always going to be a base level of happiness, but know that there ARE ways to keep your natural, inner-high going. You need to focus on things that make you intrinsically happy. Financial gains, fame, sexual pleasures, etc. are all just short-term highs. Focusing on things like personal growth and peer bonding are activities that will make you intrinsically happy. People who are close with their family and loved ones and have passionate hobbies, practice crafts, and spend time on activities that promote growth are able to maintain a high level of happiness.

    The magic of these things is that not only do they make you naturally and genuinely happy, but they also mitigate stress. I recommend the documentary “Happy” if your interested in the study of such things. It’s an eye-opening film about the things that make us happy, and what cultures are happier than others based on the focus of their societies.

    http://www.thehappymovie.com/

  • Caution

    Given the intense social and endogenous pressures involved, unhappy fathers usually (very wisely) avoid airing their misgivings over having had kids.

    Even when the situation is very obviously irredeemable to an outsider.

    Owing to my circumstances, I’ve witnessed many a cathartic admission of disappointment or regret.

    “I wish I’d never…”

    Existential farts. Memento mori. Without fail, they’re followed by embarrassed disavowals and hurried conciliatory backtracking.

    “I love them to death, I really do. Best thing to ever happen to me.”

  • thesickmanofeurope_com

    If you NEED to have a kid in order to validate your existence…..it simply means you have issues.
    You do NOT need anything to validate you….if you are a real red-pill alpha man that is.
    The idea that you “need” kids/”good woman” or whatever in order to make your life “complete” is simply… uber-beta.

  • Easy Money

    True, but I’d rather be unhappy and successful than unhappy and unsuccessful.

  • Timoteo

    Continuing to set goals may help this. Set modest goals, achieve them, then set new ones to keep it fresh. Always feel like you’re striving for something to stay motivated. Measuring yourself against others can be tricky, because there’s always going to be someone with more…

  • bonfire

    Isnt pleasure ,( banging a pretty woman, or reaching a goal) just a shadow of happiness.?
    Doesnt happiness come from enjoying the journey more than the destination?

  • Torgo

    “When you see how much of the world lives compared to us we have nothing to bitch about.”
    Well said. I was a miserable, socially awkward young man at the age of 22 but working at an animal shelter after college showed me creatures that were much worse off than me. In that context, self-pity and resentment was unseemly and a sign of weakness, and I was able to endure and grow stronger.