For me, the essence of simple living is looking beyond the typical measures of success. Many people receive messages from their families and commercial culture that success comes from money and power, which are poor predictors of contentment. Many young women, and many young men too, are conditioned to believe that success means popularity, sex appeal and admiration from one’s peers.
I’m currently reading “The Triple Package,” which seeks to explain why members of certain cultural groups experience “success” more often than others. The authors (“Tiger Mom” Amy Chua and her husband, Jed Rubenfeld, both Yale Law School professors) name three: 1) A superiority complex, or a belief in your group’s specialness; 2) Insecurity, a worry that you’re not good enough, or economic or social anxiety; and 3) Impulse control, an ability to resist the temptation to give up in the face of difficulty.
But the authors point out that success often comes at a price: “Deeply insecure people are often neurotic. Impulse denial can undercut the ability to experience beauty, tranquility and spontaneous joy. Belief in the superiority of one’s group can promote arrogance, prejudice and worse.”
The children of immigrants often possess these qualities. One of my parents was an immigrant, and I grew up with some of the seemingly contradictory notions of superiority and insecurity. If I had had more impulse control, maybe I would have been more successful!
But early in my adult life I came to value other things. Now I define success in terms of health, the ability to give and receive love, the attainment of wisdom, spending time with friends, a sense of purpose, and contributing to the community. For me, success often involves the ability to let go of destructive behavior patterns, of personal grudges, of projects that take up energy but don’t produce satisfaction.
When I can be the one who determines how I spend every hour of every day, that’s success. I like the Japanese concept of ikigai, which roughly translates as a good reason to get out of bed in the morning.
Here are some wise words on success. Albert Einstein: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.” Maya Angelou: “Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.” John Wooden: “Success is the peace of mind attained only through the self-satisfaction that you made the effort to do the best you are capable of.”