What do you think is the relationship between success and happiness? Is it causal and if so, which is the chicken and which is the egg? Does success lead to happiness? Or does happiness lead to success? Or perhaps it’s a more nuanced relationship, more co-linear or part of a richer stew of life?

While it may be a largely American concept, many people think that the primary objective of our lives, or at least our working lives, is to journey toward “station happiness” as the ultimate destination. And that achieving success is the locomotive that will power the train to happiness.

But maybe that notion is actually wrong. Maybe it’s not a straight upward sloping line with success as the independent, x-axis variable, and happiness as the dependent or y-axis variable. And however it is that you think about success and happiness, the fact is that it is likely to vary based on where you are in your life and career. In your twenties, the Promise Phase of your career, perhaps the most important determinants of happiness are your perceived career trajectory and confidence in your future, how much you are learning, how much money you are making, and or how much control you have over your schedule. In your thirties and forties, in the Momentum Phase of your career, perhaps you are starting to not take your health for granted and that along with the quality of your relationships and your family are the principal drivers of your happiness. Of course you also want to be growing and contributing and having an impact. As your career progresses, toward theHarvest Phase of your career, other important considerations may become more important, such as the meaning of your work, the people you are able to mentor and their success.

Here’s a question to ponder and something about which I welcome your comments and discussion:

Think about the most successful person you know. To what extent would you agree or disagree with the following statements. He or she:

  • Is extremely happy
  • Is very wealthy
  • Is famous or renowned in their field
  • Has a great and happy family
  • Is well educated
  • Is confident in his/her life and future
  • Travels internationally for business and pleasure
  • Is physically fit
  • Has fun
  • Is cultured and sophisticated
  • Is having a fundamental positive impact on the world
  • Is a great mentor
  • Works 24 X 7

How else would you describe them? How might this adjust your own thinking about the relationship of success and happiness? Please share your thoughts as we probe together this elusive but potentially solvable question.