Happiness vs Success

Student priorities around happiness and success influence their life decisions, mental health, and general wellness

Quiet chatter fills the air in the carefree birthday party environment as sophomore Shivani Dilip Latha makes her way over to her friend expecting a conversation just as lighthearted. ‘I’m so glad you’re here, it feels like we haven’t hung out in months,’ her friend says playfully. ‘Your always in FIT or doing work, I never get to see you anymore’ the friend ends in a subtly, more serious tone, causing a wave of guilt and realization to wash over Dilip Latha.
Had it really been that long?
It started with choice sheets and the simple decision to choose more difficult classes. Then it was one algebra assignment, one time she had to choose to stay home instead of hanging out with her friends. But day after day the work stacks up, and that one day becomes every day, and those days become habit, and that habit becomes a system. Get home. Eat dinner. Work late into the night until eventually she has to give into the fatigue and go to bed. That one day without her friends became months, because she is prioritizing success over happiness.
“That moment at the party made me realize just how much my time commitments have changed since freshman year when I was taking all academic classes,” Dilip Latha said. “I’m not able to see my friends as often and it kind of shocked me because I wasn’t aware of how much change had occurred. I chose success over happiness a lot this year because I consistently prioritized my grades and my academic success, so I wasn’t spending as much time with my friends, and I wasn’t seeing them as often as I was seeing them last year. However because of that I was more successful academically.”
The battle between happiness and success is one that has been going on for a very long time, and no one can seem to agree on which one is the most important. One of the main issues in the argument is that everyone has their own definitions of what happiness and success mean to them. Britannica defines happiness as an ongoing state of well being emotionally. However Dilip Latha defines happiness as a lack of negative emotions.
“Happiness is when you’re carefree and you’re not worried about something actively or consistently,” Dilip Latha said. “I think I felt truly happy in middle school because I wasn’t consistently worrying about the future and I was secure in what I was doing. I wasn’t constantly spending middle school worrying about my grades and what I was going to do in high school and what I was going to do after high school, I would just take things as they came. Now I feel like I spend a lot of time thinking about the future, and I’m not as present.”
Many things can encourage someone to choose happiness over success. According to Harvard professor of psychology, Daniel Gilbert, the pursuit of happiness is a motivator for virtually all of the choices people make in life.
“Someone would say that happiness is more important because when you’re happy, everything feels successful because you’re not consistently worrying about materialistic things to define your emotions,” Dilip Latha said. “A lot of happiness nowadays isn’t even things that bring you joy, It’s just being comfortable, and feeling healthy. And a lot of success comes at the expense of your health.”
According to Dilip Latha, happiness and success go hand in hand. She believes that success is happiness because happiness stems from feelings of comfort in life caused by being successful. A similar idea to this is recognized by psychology professor Leslie Riopel from Northwood University, who believes that happiness and success are definitely linked, and that many people spend their life aspiring to be happy, believing that through success they would achieve that happiness. Of a group of 205 Bowie students polled, 70.2% said that success is one of the things that makes them feel happy, and 30.9% of students said that happiness is one of the things that makes them feel successful.
“Success, I think, is being pleased with yourself,” English teacher Lillie Crawford said. “For me success looked like ‘I’m going to go to college and I’m going to start a career in teaching. I’m going to help people, I’m going to teach students, and I’m going to work with other people who are like minded to me.’ Success to others, though, may be different. Everyone has their own path, like my brother who is on the path to become a professional wrestler. That’s success to him, so I think true success is doing what brings you joy, doing what you have a passion for, and doing it with your entire heart, making it your life. I think that’s success.”
The choice between happiness and success can be motivated by outside factors such as peoples economic situations. Many students prioritize success by getting jobs outside of school to start saving and preparing for the future. According to Melissa Marcus from the UNC school of medicine students with jobs in high school can build their resumes and get higher paying jobs in the future.
“A lot of people are motivated by the opinions of others to pick success,” Crawford said. “I think that of course everyone wants to be successful. And there’s always people who say money can’t buy happiness. And I think a lot of people may disagree with that because money is a problem and a real challenge for a lot of people nowadays, so of course I think they pick success. Happiness, can’t pay bills. A lot of people choose success over happiness just because money is such a huge issue these days, and there is a lot of outside pressure and pressure from family wanting you to be successful.”

School Success
School Success

Within the realm of school, the choices between happiness and success can be different than in life overall. According to Crawford, students can be very motivated to choose success in school due to pressures from grades, tests, and their peers. There is also pressure on students to do well in school due to the societal ideology around going to college.
“The school system really prioritizes success, and puts a lot of pressure on students to do well and perform well,” Crawford said. “I am of the mindset that not everyone should go to college, and I think that’s a real priority of the school system. Oftentimes, I think that they make going to collage seem like the only option, that you need to go to college to be successful. I think the school system definitely placed an emphasis on success at the expense of happiness. There are lots of times when students have come to me saying things like ‘I was up till 3 a.m. Last night’ doing homework or finishing a reading because they spent eight hours trying to do math or chemistry homework. In my head I react like ‘Oh, holy crap, please get some sleep’. I don’t care that much, Students shouldn’t care that much, we can always work something out. I think success is put over happiness a lot of times in school, and I think that comes at a price.”
According to Dilip Latha, students put a lot of pressure on academic success due to worries about the future. Dilip Latha believes that teenagers spend their high school years resume building because of high expectations from colleges.
“I’m prioritizing success over happiness and I’m spending all my time exhausting resources into my academics,” Dilip Latha said. “I’m not spending nearly half my time having successful relationships and spending time with people. I feel like I’m always working and it’s causing me to burn out.”
Junior Noble Cox believes that the school system puts emphasis on student success, but that it’s adapting to also prioritize student happiness. With AP tests going on around school many students are hunkering down to study, but posters around school with phrases like ‘you are more than a test score’ can show the schools shift towards prioritizing students mental health over their test results.
“I feel like the school system prioritizes a little bit of both happiness and success,” Cox said. “I feel like the school system is making a shift towards allowing students to be happy with the creation of new organizations and more inclusivity but then I also feel like they’re kind of gearing us towards success by teaching us differing viewpoints and teaching us how to be successful in the future.”
While putting too much emphasis on success can be harmful for students, according to Spanish teacher and soccer coach Isaac Nevarez the amount of effort and prioritization of success a student puts into school can be reflected in a students grades and school performance.
“I think students prioritize happiness because it’s easier,” Nevarez said. “School is hard, reading a book isn’t fun or easy, writing an essay isn’t easy. I think that as students develop emotionally they just want to do what’s easier. At least that was my experience. I remember this one time I was supposed to take the SAT and I was supposed to study. Every night I would tell myself I’m gonna study, but every night I went out with my friends. The night before the SAT I think I stayed up till two in the morning, so I definitely chose happiness or success”
Prioritizing happiness can feel good in the short term, but according to sophomore Drake Growing, eventually students will have to prioritize their success.
“I put happiness over success mostly every day, because working hard is boring,” Growing said. “I just want to play games and completely ignore my academics. I feel like anytime I’m assigned work or a teacher is talking to me, I’m no longer happy at that moment. In the future I will probably have to put success first because my GPA is really bad, so if I want to go to a good college I have to get it up, which means I actually have to try at school.”
A big grin appears on Kate Sur’s face as she checks the grade book to see she got a 100 on her advanced Algebra II final, all of the effort she put into studying had paid off. Now, as a senior Sur looks back on this moment and remembers how happy it made her. While Sur prioritizes success in school, she has found ways for that success to also make her happy.
“Within the realm of school I definitely choose success over happiness, but I also learned that how to live with that is to derive happiness from success in school,” Sur said. “In school I try to focus on my classes, I focus on my homework, I focus on my grades, and I don’t play games. I don’t really hang out with my friends except at lunchtime, but sometimes you’ll even catch me in the library working during lunch. In school, I definitely put success first because I think that’s more important, It’s an investment in my future. I might not be so happy in school, but then when I do get that satisfaction of completing my goals and completing my level of success, then I feel happy later. I also try to balance success in school with happiness outside of school.”

Handling Home Life Balance
Handling Home Life Balance

According to Crawford, creating separation between school or work and outside life is important, so she tries to do things she enjoys while at home, and not check her email. Crawford believes that school is hard, and home life shouldn’t be hard as well.
“I don’t live to work, but I work so I can live,” Nevarez said. “Outside of work I enjoy spending time with my kids and my wife. I try not to bring home work so that I can just enjoy them. They’re more important than my job, and I try to show them that by making sure that I’m not bringing any of my frustration home or bringing home work. So I can spend my time with them, and they can have my undivided attention. I grew up without a dad, so one of my purposes when I got married and had kids was that I was not going to be like my dad. I was always going to be there for my kids, so my kids don’t have to experience what I experienced. The fact that I’m so involved in my kids’ lives, and I can see the difference between their childhood and mine, makes me feel successful.”
Students’ lives outside of school can push them towards success. Parents have a big impact on what their children think is important in life, and according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center 88% of parents said that it is extremely important for their child to be financially independent as an adult, and 41% of parents said that it’s extremely important that their child gets a college degree.
“My home life outside of school is pretty chill,” Cox said. “My parents push me to do well in school, and I think it’s good that they do that to me, it allows me to kind of build on myself and improve as school goes on. I think my home life makes me feel successful because my dad really pushes my brother and I to be successful in life and to be better people altogether. He also has us listen to podcasts and things like that on car rides to kind of improve our abilities, our ideas.”
Student home lives can also just be a chance to take a break from school and relax or spend time with family. Sur utilizes her home life as time to prioritize her happiness and achieve a balance from all her time prioritizing success at school.
“My home life outside of school makes me happy because I pursue things that give me contentment and satisfaction at home like hanging out with my family like hanging out with my cat, cooking, exercising, reading or making string art,” Sur said. “Things I do outside of school make me happy because I actively choose them and I actively pursue them for that goal. For someone to be happier in their home life I would say pick things that you like, do things that you enjoy, and then put time and effort into it and don’t feel guilty when doing it. Pick things that you enjoy doing and that will give you happiness. Also seek out social connections with people because humans are social beings. I feel successful in my home life because I achieved the happiness that I’m looking for there. I have achieved the relaxation, the detachment from school, and the personal connections I was looking for.”

Happiness With Hobbies
Happiness With Hobbies

In students’ lives outside of school the activities they take part in can influence whether they prioritize happiness or success. The competitive aspect of hobbies and especially sports can influence students to prioritize success and miss out on the joy that their hobbies can bring.
“A lot of students want to join the soccer team to be able to socialize with friends and they get that aspect of hanging out, but when it comes to winning, they’re caught off guard by the level of work that goes into it,” Nevarez said. “A lot of students do club ball and they practice on their own so they can compete for playing time. That’s a rude awakening for those who are going in just for the social aspect as opposed to the kids who are going in to grow and to get better and to compete. Those kids are the ones who are better prepared for it, but I wouldn’t say they are happier, they may not be happy.”
Outside of athletics students can still find happiness and success in their hobbies. Dilip Latha enjoys her hobbies such as crafting because they are a break from her usual left brain school obligations, and give her a chance to be creative. Cox enjoys his hobbies because they allow him to help others, just like others have helped him.
“Boy Scouts has helped me a lot throughout the years,” Cox said. “It makes me happy because I get to shine my skills on the younger scouts that I get to teach them and improve their abilities. Boy Scouts makes me feel happy through success because I feel when I improve the younger kids’ abilities that makes me feel successful, and happy because I’m glad that what I taught them is working.”

Rosy Relationships
Rosy Relationships

While students pick hobbies outside of school that often bring them happiness along with success, it is not just what students are doing outside of school that influence their emotions. The people students spend their time with can also influence whether they feel happiness or success is more important.
“Romantic relationships definitely bring me joy,” Sur said. “It feels nice to be with someone that you like and to get to know them on a deeper level. My friendships definitely bring me joy but it’s more like pure fun. My familial relationships bring me joy because those are the people that I trust with anything, and they trust me. We go through a lot of difficult times together and a lot of good times together. We can not necessarily be the nicest to each other, but we know we’re always there for each other.”
The happiness students find in relationships can also be used to help them be more successful. According to Dilip Latha, when students surround themselves with people who have similar workloads or interests to them and are successful, the students themselves can feel more motivated to prioritize their success.
“I feel like the people I’m with really encouraged me to become a better person,” Dilip Latha said. “I feel fulfilled in my relationships, so I don’t feel the need to seek more.”

Happiness vs Success: The Verdict
Happiness vs Success: The Verdict

At the end of the day, some people prioritize success. Nevarez believes that success is a permanent attribute, while happiness is a fleeting emotion.

“Success is more important because being happy is easy versus success is harder to attain, but having success doesn’t go away,” Nevarez said. “For instance, like I got my college degree that will never change. For me being happy that could change, my emotions will change over time”
Some people prioritize happiness. According to Crawford, happiness can actually motivate people to be more successful.
“I think happiness is more important because I think you can’t have success if you’re not happy,” Crawford said. “One has to come from the other; unless you’re happy you’re not going to be very successful because you’re going to be miserable and moping around all day and not able to do the things you love. So, happiness I think is the priority.”
Some people prioritize both. According to Sur, when students only prioritize happiness in the moment instead of investing time in their future they will be less successful in school and in the future. On the other hand Sur also believes that taking a break from harshly prioritizing success can be beneficial for mental health and productivity.
“I think both happiness and success are important in equal measure,” Sur said. “Working towards your goals and accomplishing your goals is important. Meanwhile, being happy along that journey is also important because you’re not always going to be successful, but you still need to be happy and that like motivates, failure can motivate, but also happiness can motivate you to get to the next level.”
Many people believe there is a way to be happy and successful, whether that be through balance between work and life, or finding work that they love.
“I think the key to being both happy and successful is finding and doing what you love,” Crawford said. “Finding that thing that you can make money from, but that you don’t hate, so you can look forward to your job every day. I think there’s a way, especially in this day and age with social media and all of the technology, there’s a way to make anything that makes you happy your successful job. I feel like you can make anything that makes you happy into a job or a way to be successful. I think that finding that thing that you love and finding a way to creatively work it into your life, work it into what you do each day, work it into your success and prosperity is the way to go.”

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