Very few talk about it but many founders feel it — jealousy. Here’s one woman’s advice on how to stop letting other people’s success make you unhappy.
By Karen X. Cheng (Designer, Exec)
You know the feeling. When it hurts to see other people succeed. When you read articles about Mark Zuckerberg, the world’s youngest billionaire. When you watch some freak child prodigy playing piano like a mini Mozart. When your friend gets that thing you wanted for yourself.
I used to feel this way all the time. It was exhausting to live in a world where I was constantly jealous of everyone else. I didn’t want to be this way, but I couldn’t help it. When other people did well, it made me feel inadequate. I was obsessed with success.
Today, I don’t get jealous anymore. Okay – I do still feel jealous sometimes. But for the most part, I am genuinely happy for other people when I see them do well.
I learned one thing – how happiness works. Turns out, people are really bad at figuring out what makes them happy. We think we’ll be happy if only. If only we get that job promotion. If only our longtime crush would date us. If only we had a bigger house, a better car. That’s not how happiness works at all, though.
Sure, these things give us a short-term boost in happiness. But they don’t affect long-term happiness. We quickly adjust to the new normal and start wanting more. Lottery winners surveyed a year later aren’t any happier. The reverse is true too – if you got into an accident and became paralyzed, miraculously your happiness will return to about the same level a year later.
Humans are biologically programmed to be resilient to hardships, but it’s the same trait that leaves us perpetually wanting more. It’s crazy — I’ve noticed that the people who most frequently post about their glamorous lives on Facebook are sometimes the most miserable inside.
Circumstances (like wealth and relationship status) make up only 10% of your happiness. Of the other 90%, about half is genetics. Some people are wired to be happier than others – it’s in their brain chemistry.
But the other half is completely within your power to change: it’s your mindset and how you choose to spend your time. Appreciating what you have. Taking the time to have meaningful relationships with friends and family. Helping others. This isn’t new age-y stuff. This is cold, hard, science.
Once I realized this, I could stop wanting things that other people had. I finally understood that their achievements and possessions weren’t the keys to their happiness. I could get my own happiness just by changing my mindset and behavior.
A lot of my friends are entrepreneurs, and I frequently get asked why I don’t start a company. I’d always thought the pinnacle definition of success would be to create a big-shot company. As someone who used to be obsessed with success, the entrepreneurial dream was certainly seductive.
But I haven’t started a company because I don’t think it will make me happy. Some people love it, and building a company makes them happy. But that’s not me. What makes me happy is learning and having fun. Designing is fun, and dancing is fun. The hours I spend doing these things aren’t work. They’re play. Because I’m having fun, it’s easy to go all in. And going all in makes you a lot more likely to succeed.
Do you want to be happy, or do you want to be successful? If you choose happiness, then you can have both.
This post originally appeared on Karen’s personal blog.
About the blogger: Karen lives in San Francisco and is a designer at Exec. She enjoys creating something out of nothing, whether it’s a song, a logo, or the design of an app. She also likes to write and perform music and plays in a band, Electric Villain. At the moment though, her instrument of choice is cello.