If you're rich and powerful, you'll be happy

Sound familiar? Probably--the media sends us this subconscious message constantly.

Despite the science being clear that money and power don't actually contribute to real, true happiness, we can't seem to let go of the fact that we think it just might. But with every new achievement or dollar you earn, you don't feel happier. Instead, you feel the need to strive more and more. If you just do this one more thing, you'll be happy. Right?

As a culture, we also idealize the wealthy and powerful. We're fascinated by their lives and even more fascinated with how they achieved everything they have. Documentaries about the success of some of the top leaders in our recent times--Warren Buffet, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates--are prolific.

But the big question never asked is: Are they happy? Even better, are they emotionally healthy? Emotionally healthy people are self-aware, have inner confidence, and maintain fulfilling relationships. They've also worked through their emotional baggage. This emotional health is the definition of true happiness--not success or wealth. 

The truth is, many of those who seem perfect on the outside are struggling on the inside, and the very people we think are happiest are actually the least. On the flip side, it's often hard to identify the truly happy people. They don't need to flaunt their emotional health--because inner peace and happiness make them crave external validation less.

So below, I've listed some obvious signs that you're emotionally healthy--and thus on the path to true happiness:

  1. You are aware of your emotional baggage--i.e. the wounds you've endured from your childhood and your past--and are able to see how they've manifested in your adult behavior habits. 

  2. You've done the work to reverse the negative behavior habits that were causing conflict with people you love and respect. 

  3. You see who you are, and you truly love, appreciate, and respect yourself. You've done the work to reverse the negative self-talk and you've replaced it with kinder messages. 

  4. You are aware of your triggers, those moments when you have an immediate negative reaction to something that seems much more intense than what the situation calls for. Meaning it's triggering something from your past.

  5. You have a plan of action for when you're triggered and are able to avoid behaving in ways that you regret at home and at work.

  6. You have a sense of inner peace and contentment about 85 - 90% of the time. 

  7. You have healthy relationships with others. Meaning you feel seen and heard and experience joy when you are with them and very little to no drama.

  8. Your happiness is not tied to external rewards and money. It's enjoyable to have money and external things, but you don't define your worth by them and don't have an obsessive drive for them because you know that they have nothing to do with real happiness. 

  9. You prioritize your wellbeing and put time and energy into working on your emotional health and building the habits that deepen your happiness.

  10.  When disappointments and failures happen, you see them as opportunities for growth, not a reflection of your value. 

No, none of this is easy. But it's some of the most life-changing work you will ever do--and will have a far bigger payout than the traditional markers of success.

Published on: Oct 1, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.