Why Successful People Are Not Happy

Is Dennis Prager a sloppy thinker? You tell me.

When people who are affluent and live in a free society are not particularly happy, one cannot place the blame on society. It is not oppression or poverty that prevents such people from being happier - it is human nature.

Uncontrolled, human nature leads more to unhappiness than to happiness - because it is, in a word, insatiable. Human nature is designed never to feel satisfied. Whatever it wants, it wants more of.

Many years ago, I came across an ad in the Los Angeles Times: "If you are not completely satisfied with your sex life, give us a call." The ad was for a sex therapy clinic, and it was brilliant. Who in Los Angeles...was completely satisfied with his or her sex life?...

The truth is that we are completely satisfied with nothing. Imagine if the ad had read, "If you are not completely satisfied with your parents, give us a call," or "If you are not completely satisfied with your income, give us a call."

There is nothing that we want that we do not want more of. We are completely satisfied with nothing we desire...

This is not learned. It is part of human nature. I monitored the order of words my youngest child spoke. The first was "Mama." The second was "Dada." The third was "more."

That is why happiness depends on our learning not to allow our nature's permanent state of dissatisfaction to make us unhappy. No one proves this point better than the successful professionals for whom happiness remains elusive.

from Dennis Prager: Are Brokers Happy?
Here's Prager's logic.

He says that most people in business are taught to hold great professional expectations in order to succeed. But the more expectations people have the more they take for granted.

If they expect as a matter of course to be healthy, why should they be happy if they are healthy? If they expect to earn good money, why should they be particularly happy when they do?

He concludes: "If we get what we expect, we won't be especially pleased; and if we don't get what we expect, we will be angry".

His remedy: consciously minimizing expectations is the best way to achieve happiness.

Now, there's a trick here in his use of the word
"expectations". Prager doesn't use "expectation of success" to refer to confidence in your ability to achieve high goals and ambitions.

He is referring to a very narrow focus on "great expectations" which causes people to take anything but the extraordinary for granted which encourages them to focus on their bottomless needs.

But, in this regard he raises an interesting issue which he later ignores completely.

Whether having high expectations of success - as opposed to having high goals and ambitions, and making great demands on oneself - is truly necessary in order to succeed is a matter of conjecture.
It makes sense to think that people who have high goals and ambitions and make great demands on themselves necessarily take a lot of lesser things for granted. You might think that running five miles a day is a great achievement. But once you decide to become a serious runner five miles a day is nothing but a laugh, a blip.

I remember reading a profile of Michael Dukakis once and what amazed me about him was the amount of work he would do in university as a matter of course. But Prager, after raising the issue is content to just cast it aside.

I'd wager that many successful people are happier than others just because they are able to take so much for granted. It allows them to calmly face huge challenges that would surely intimidate lesser beings.

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