In particular, American money gurus tend to emphasize numbers and luxury goods in their definition of success.
Six-figure, seven-figure, eight-figure incomes; private jets, yachts, and mansions.
Hearing these definitions of success makes me want to…well, vomit.
Because they are shallow.
Apparently, many Americans (and probably people in many other countries) share that sentiment.
In a 2014 survey conducted by IPSOS on behalf of Strayer University, 90 percent of the American participants believed that success is more about happiness than money, power and fame.
In this survey, success was mostly defined as “attaining personal goals” (67 percent), “good relationships” (66 percent) and “loving what you do for a living” (60 percent). The results of this study led the university to advocate for a change in Merriam-Webster’s definition of success.
(As a side note, the Executive Chairman and former CEO of Strayer Education Inc., Robert Silberman, may not share the proposed new definition of success.)
Why are efforts to redefine success a good thing?
Current definitions of success are not only shallow, they are detached from the well-being of all.
As someone originally from Germany, the country with the world’s oldest social health insurance system, this does not feel right to me.
The truth is that the earth cannot sustain a lot of people with, for instance, private jets.
Private jets have a horrendous carbon footprint. Given the environmental consequences, who knows if private jet usage will even still be allowed a few decades from now.
With the need to keep climate change to a minimum or face horrendous consequences (which will be most strongly experienced by poor countries, first), how can private jet usage be seen as a sign of success?
Can someone really claim to be successful if their actions contribute that strongly to leaving the world worse off for future generations?
And what does it say about us if we do not bring up this point repeatedly, to dispel the idea that private jets are an expression of success?
If we believe the lies of mainstream marketing, we are part of the problem.
Just as we need to redefine our definition of success, we also have to redefine our idea of abundance and luxury. Recently, I had an experience that got me thinking about this deeply. While on vacation, I was sitting in the most amazing hammock I have ever seen. It felt heavenly.
This hammock was situated in a Brazilian B&B. This place is not a five-star hotel. It probably could never become one—it does not even have a pool. However, the beach is a three-minute walk away. And did I mention the hammock that gently rocked me into a little midday slumber?
On my last day, the owner of this place invited me to join her for lunch in her kitchen. She remarked that I had eaten so little for breakfast she wanted to make sure I wasn’t hungry. We talked a bit about our lives and had a really nice connection.
While it wasn’t a five-star hotel, it certainly was a five-heart accommodation.
Compare my recent experience of lying in this amazing hammock with my experience of more commonly accepted luxury, such as the five-star hotel I was checked into by a company I was interviewing with.
On my way to the hotel, I passed three women living on the street. I had a brief chat with them and gave them my food and, I believe, money. After this encounter, I couldn’t enjoy the luxury of the hotel.
Maybe there should be a way to categorize hotels according to soulfulness.
Because, while it’s possible to buy luxury, soulful luxury is a whole other animal. For instance, I once had a tea in the “hotel of hotels” in Dubai, an five-star hotel with seven-star service. I believe, at that time, it was 80 dollars per person for the tea.
While the entire experience was amazing, there was one thing that the hotel did not have in abundance—soul. Because soul experiences can’t be bought.
True abundance can come from realizing that we do not need to own everything to have what we want.
Owning things we really care about or need is great. Everything else can become a burden, because we either have to take care of it ourselves or pay someone to take care of it.
The recent trends toward decluttering, tiny houses and minimalism is a testimony to that.
Similarly, there are many exciting movements toward conscious business, a gift economy and shared resources.
If we have a definition of success and abundance that does not entail freedom and relationships, we will lose out on happiness.
We don’t need more abundance. We need more sustainable abundance.
We don’t need more luxury. We need more soulful luxury—a fair trade hammock, a stroll on the beach, our loved ones and wholesome food.
We need more win-win-win situations:
Win for us, win for those around us and win for the planet.
Author: Bere Blissenbach
Editor: Emily Bartran