Does success make you happy?

Understanding your dreams might not make you happy seems to be powerful way to engage with your art more authentically — but swallowing this wisdom can be difficult.

Our dreams of fame and fortune are often a way to escape our discomfort and the painful reality that perhaps we feel a bit lonely and unloved. And we aren’t alone in this infatuation, society at large is obsessed with those who have more than we do. It’s very easy to believe amongst the abundance of wealth and adoration, there too is an opulence of love and acceptance — and that most elusive of states: happiness.

And yet when we pay attention to those who’ve made it, we might be disappointed to find that success isn’t guaranteed to dispel our fears and insecurities. The standard we set for ourselves have a tenacious ability to adapt, and it is with alarming pace success gives way to new ambitions as we find new ways to make ourselves feel a little bit inadequate once more. In fact, runaway success can reinforce these feelings as people struggle to relate to your new reality — exacerbating the alienating belief that people only like you for your achievements, and not the human being you are.

Think about how often we hear about rock-stars in rehab, or Hollywood starlets getting divorced or even the tragic suicide of a universally loved comedian. Often portrayed amongst a frenzied circus of schadenfreude or shocked disbelief, perhaps with a bit more empathy we would learn that success is no salve for the hurt and pain of being human.

Confronted with this perspective it’s easy to poke fun in an attempt to protect our investment in this belief: “They couldn’t be happy with everything? Cry me a river! Pretty sure I could manage”. Success is rare, and so our ability to evaluate its veracity through our own experiences is diminished. But if we were to take the message to heart, what would it be telling us?

If, in our goals to become a successful writer, actor, painter, musician, developer or any other creative, we are doing so to compensate for our sense of inadequacy, perhaps we should employ another strategy? Rather than delaying our happiness to an eventual future that might never come to pass, what if we could instead focus our energy on the relationships and people whom are already in our lives? Not only is this available to us immediately, but it is perhaps rather more likely to deliver us to our goal if it pertains to absolving our pains.

If winning doesn’t make you happy, why do we even bother?

This is question may seem silly, but if we truly follow through all the way to the conclusion, might it not make sense to abandon our ambitions? Should we take the stable job and find our creative outlets in our pastimes and hobbies? This answer will be different for different people, and neither should it confer any shame. However, with the right frame of reference, there are a few reasons to find success in our creative fields is worth striving for.

One thing success does bring us is identity capital. While this isn’t the same thing as validation and acceptance, it can be very useful when people know who you are before they’ve met you in person. It helps create opportunities and opens new doors, as it gives the other person a validated reason to believe you’re worth their time of day. This can help us land job opportunities, speaking engagements, press coverage and even qualify you as an alien of extraordinary ability, the US visa for luminaries in their field .

Another obvious practical benefit of success is money. Not as a means to purchase happiness per se, but it does solve many anxieties that can make creativity, and life in general, impossible. Indeed deep projects, those that span years and require the expertise of others, often demand money as the oxygen essential to their existence. Or even the simply luxury of buying the time we need to sit in the chair and produce our work in the first place. This isn’t always true, but it is an aspect often overlooked in the mythos of the starving artist.

And finally there is a deep sense of satisfaction to be had in applying ourselves, to make meaningful work with purpose, to lose ourselves in a state of flow as the hours slip past. Note that these are not activities that require an audience, but simply our own creative expression. Perhaps this is the greatest upside to success, just enough so that it doesn’t become a burden or suffer the undue weight of expectation, is it gives us the confidence to be more expressive.

Cadence is a video game in development and the inspiration for this series. To see how this turns out, delivered to your inbox every Tuesday, then hit follow next to Creative Suck below. Or don’t, this is probably easier if no one’s watching.