There are a lot of different definitions of success. The most banal idea of success involves having a great job (or being retired), lots of money, a fancy car of your choice, a perfect house… you get the idea. This is, I think, what most people unconsciously imagine when they think of a successful person.
But is this really success? What if you live in your perfect house alone, and drive your fancy car to the high-paying job that you hate? What if you’re retired and have plenty of money, but are bored? What’s missing from this view of success? You have been successful in your career, but not in life.
Warren Buffet, who certainly would fit the having-lots-of-money definition of success, recently said,
Basically, when you get to my age, you’ll really measure your success in life by how many of the people you want to have love you actually do love you.
I know many people who have a lot of money, and they get testimonial dinners and they get hospital wings named after them. But the truth is that nobody in the world loves them.
That’s the ultimate test of how you have lived your life. The trouble with love is that you can’t buy it. You can buy sex. You can buy testimonial dinners. But the only way to get love is to be lovable. It’s very irritating if you have a lot of money. You’d like to think you could write a check: I’ll buy a million dollars’ worth of love. But it doesn’t work that way. The more you give love away, the more you get.
Aristotle, the great Greek philosopher, would have agreed with Warren Buffet, but he also would have gone further. Aristotle points out that no one wants money for its own sake. Everyone who wants money wants it to buy something that they want more than the cash. But even the stuff that money buys is acquired for the sake of something else. Why did you buy that new house? Why did you buy that new car? To be comfortable, to be admired by others… there are many reasons. Aristotle goes through all the things that people want, even friendship and love, and points out that the only thing that is desired for itself, and for no other reason, is happiness. The successful woman will be the happy woman.
Now Aristotle’s idea of happiness is not the same as pleasure. Pleasure is fleeting and can easily be lost. It can become sickening over time. Imagine your favorite dessert: soft, creamy, delicious cheesecake! Yum…. Now imagine eating that dessert all day, every day for a month. Yuck…. And any pleasure can become as old and dreary as your cheesecake would be after thirty days.
Aristotle’s view of happiness is rather the complete fulfillment of the human person. The human person is a rational being, and its greatest joys are those of the mind. But the human is also physical, and the physical needs must also be met. As the people at pursuit-of-happiness.org put it, “happiness consists in achieving, through the course of a whole lifetime, all the goods — health, wealth, knowledge, friends, etc.—that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life. This requires us to make choices, some of which may be very difficult. Often the lesser good promises immediate pleasure and is more tempting, while the greater good is painful and requires some sort of sacrifice.”
True happiness requires that all the humans needs and desires be balanced, a state Aristotle calls virtue. Virtue is the state of order within the person in which that person can choose freely to do what is most good, without having an internal battle over it.
Most people agree that they are happiest in the moments when they accomplish some goal, and the higher and worthier that goal is, the greater the happiness is. Virtues are necessary for happiness because they allow the person to achieve his or her goals despite the temptations to do things that would prevent the acquisition of the “all the goods …that lead to the perfection of human nature and to the enrichment of human life.”
Virtue also allows us to avoid those things which prevent us from being happy. Drug use, overeating, and alcoholism are all bad choices that can ruin lives and prevent happiness. Virtue makes it easy to make good choices, like saving money, eating healthy food, maintaining important relationships, and avoiding harmful substances.
No woman can be called genuinely successful unless she is happy. They may have achieved notable things, and become rich or famous, but without happiness, this is worthless. While any woman who achieves happiness is successful in living, we like to hear about people who went above and beyond the ordinary. These are the people who inspire us, who make us want to be better, who make us want to be great ourselves.
Over the next few weeks, I want to post the stories of some successful women—women who not only achieved something more than the average, but also seem to have achieved happiness in their lives.
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Here are the first two in our series: