The way I see it, everybody's definition of success can be mapped on a simple grid, with one axis being the amount of money that you have and the other being the amount of happiness in your life, like so:
The way a lot of people think, success should be defined as follows:
To my mind, however, a much more sensible definition of success is:
There are two reasons why this definition is better. First, there's no point to being rich if you're not enjoying yourself. Second, you're more likely to get rich if you're happy doing whatever you're doing.
Being unhappy, of course, can definitely spur people to action. However, the action should be pointed at trying to become happier–not trying to become richer, in the rather naive belief that being rich, in and of itself, will make you happy.
Needless to say, if you're struggling to put food in your mouth and keep a roof over your head, none of this applies. When you're just trying to survive, you're not thinking about happiness.
Even so, I'd rather be poor and happy than rich and miserable.
Real Way to Get Rich
Of course, all things considered, I'd prefer to be rich and happy rather than poor and happy. However, I believe that it's easier to get rich if you start from a place of being happy–with what you're doing and why you're doing it.
For example, I spent six years as a marketing executive, making big money with lots of perks. (And when I say perks, I mean perks like two weeks in Munich and Paris doing "market research.")
However, while I was successful by most people's standards, I wasn't particularly happy–because there was always a voice inside me saying that I was born to be a writer, not a marketing parasite.
When I made the leap to writing full time, my income dropped to almost nothing. Even so, I was far happier doing what I knew I was supposed to be doing rather than pursuing a career that to many people would define "success."
But here's the thing. I now make more money than I made back then (even adjusted for inflation), and I work about half the hours. I'm 100% convinced that this is because I defined success as being happy rather than being rich.
I've noticed this pattern with almost every really successful person I've met. I can't think of a single person who's pursued a career purely because it's lucrative and who's happy as a result. They may be rich, but they're losers.
GEOFFREY JAMES writes "Sales Source on Inc.com," the world's most-read sales-oriented blog. His new book, Business Without the Bullsh*t, will be published in early 2014. To get weekly blog updates, sign up for his free "Insider" newsletter. @Sales_Source