Peace of mind is an elusive state. It’s much easier to achieve a peaceful, Zen-like state when our outer worlds match the calm of our inner worlds.
However, we can’t wait for peaceful moments to outweigh the stressful ones in order to achieve inner peace. The difficulty of working toward ‘success,’ can launch us into moments of self-doubt, frustration, and questioning.
Perhaps we are measuring the idea of success with a faulty ruler.
Whatever goals we may have—whether they be yearly, monthly, or lifelong—the ability to appreciate the moments along the way to our destination will make or break our ability to enjoy our lives. As the saying goes, it’s not the destination, but the journey, that makes up the vast majority of moments in our lives.
Think about it: if we put all our energy into achieving specific goals, rather than appreciating all the moments along the way, how much will we have enjoyed in our lives when we finally reach our last moments?
This is not to say that we shouldn’t strive toward our dreams; only that we should strive towards peace, in spite of whether we achieve each goal or not.
Here are seven reasons why peace of mind is the true measure of success.
1. Our Health
I can’t stress this enough (get it?): stress is the number ONE killer, according to the American Medical Association. The Huffington Post even featured a handy little infographic that visually illustrates the physical ways our bodies are affected.
The long list of physical manifestations includes headaches, anxiety, jaw tension, increased heart rate, digestive disorders, obesity, decreased sex drive, insomnia, muscle tension, drug addiction, alcoholism, and suicide.
It’s best to deal with stress in the moment, as opposed to afterwards by, for example, attending an evening yoga class. This doesn’t mean that yoga is not a helpful activity. Rather, instead of putting a Band-Aid or temporary patch over a wound, it’s best to eliminate the source of stress entirely.
This can mean leaving a chronically stressful situation such as an unhealthy relationship or job, or it can mean dealing with a source of tension in the body or a sore subject with a friend. Then, at the very least, you will have dealt with the problem, as opposed to continuing to avoid it, numb it, or cover it up.
2. The Greater Good
In other words, WHO are you helping, besides yourself? If we think of corporations or companies as people—as does our current tax code—then the leap from self to company or organization isn’t too difficult to make.
Therefore, we must ask ourselves, “Can I find purpose in earning profits?” It is possible to find purpose in the business world—which is, by extension, the world most of us occupy, since we live in a capitalist society (the United States). That is, it’s probably safe to say that capitalism trumps democracy, in our current state of affairs.
Therefore, we simply must ask certain questions of our companies, organizations, or personal endeavors. For example, “What is the greater purpose of my organization?” or “Is the world a better, safer, or healthier place because of my company?”
A few ways you can help increase your company’s sense of corporate social responsibility is by working to implement ‘green’ policies that are more sustainable. Examples include eliminating unnecessary waste, implementing a recycling program, or helping to organize community outreach efforts.
You can also make it a point to implement more diverse and inclusive HR hiring and company-wide policies, so as to help ensure greater levels of equality among all employees, rather than simply a select few.
3. The Bigger Global Picture
As easy as it is to forget this, we don’t live in a bubble. This means that our country is not the only country in the world, and our purchasing choices as consumers—including how and where we choose to spend our time—matter more than we might realize.
I’ll never forget the way I felt after returning from my trip to Kenya when I was 16. I remember being shocked at how materially rich I was, compared to the vast majority of people I met during my stay.
However, I also noted a different kind of ‘wealth’ that many Kenyans seemed to possess: spiritual wealth. There was so much depth, richness, and joy in everyday interactions between people who lived there. I realized that my little purview—my window onto the world—had expanded exponentially, simply because I had lived in another part of the globe, albeit for just one month.
It’s relatively easy to expand your own global perspective, whether it’s by joining the Peace Corps or participating in another kind of volunteer trip. There’s also the possibility of expanding one’s business or entrepreneurial efforts to a global market. For example by becoming a travel blogger or expanding one’s physical business to a second country.
Ideally, you’ll not only expand your worldview, but also your language abilities!
4. Peace vs. the Corporate Ladder
At the end of your life, it is said we regret the things we didn’t do more than the things we did.
That’s why we should never allow our need for acceptance or social standing to overshadow the things that make us feel truly alive. If the idea of opening an artist’s collective in the middle of the city truly excites you, create a plan to make it happen!
Don’t allow fear and a stable job crush your dreams down to dust. There are countless stories of Wall Street executives who quit their jobs to move to the country and live on a farm, or of closet musicians who finally began putting time into their music and eventually became professional musicians.
5. Inner Desires vs. Others’ Expectations
Similarly, there are many stories of people with deep desires to become actors, but whose fathers were doctors who expected their sons or daughters to follow in their footsteps (“Dead Poets’ Society,” anyone?).
However, just because your mother wants something for you doesn’t mean you have to pursue it. Don’t live your life according to others’ expectations of you; lest you find yourself riddled with resentment and regret by the time you’re 50.
You may find yourself surrounded by people with whom you once had a lot in common with, but whom no longer understand your priorities or goals. If so, perhaps a change of scenery or social networks is in order.
The breaking away can be painful, at first. However, you’ll sleep better and have peace of mind knowing that you’re not cast in a supporting role, any longer. But rather, you’re now in the starring role of your own life.
6. Something Unexpected Along the Way
Have you ever found your expectations utterly subverted or debunked?
That’s what happened to me when I embarked upon what I’d believed would be a lifetime of teaching English, about twelve years ago. I believed that I’d found the career that I would stick with my entire life. That by choosing education as a career, I’d chosen wisely, since I’d never have trouble finding a job. There’s always a need for teachers, after all—right?
Well, much to my dismay, my teaching experiences bore no resemblance to the rosy, idyllic picture painted by the aforementioned “Dead Poets’ Society.” Rather, I ended up spending most of my time craving a moment’s peace away from nightmares about unruly classrooms, grading, and lesson planning.
During my first year teaching, I began writing poetry very early in the morning: before dawn and before I got to work planning the day’s lessons. The result of my early morning writing was a decision to apply to MFA programs, which led to my acceptance into the graduate MFA program at University of Oregon.
So, you see, all is not for naught.
You may discover something unexpected on your way to your destination. In the process, your destination—or end point—may change. Try paying attention to how you feel in the process of going where you think you want to go. You may discover that it wasn’t really where you wanted to be, after all.
7. Community vs. Self
Is your definition of success shaped more by the level of happiness or satisfaction you feel, personally, or by the health and happiness of your community? Furthermore, have you found that you’re happier when you’re part of a community of people with a common goal or set of goals?
The World’s Happiness Index lists six key factors that come into play, when measuring ‘happiness’ levels (a subjective term, of course):
- GDP per capita,
- social support,
- healthy life expectancy,
- freedom to make life choices,
- generosity, and
- perceptions of corruption
All six factors were scored relative to a hypothetical country called “Dystopia,” populated with the world’s lowest incomes, life expectancy, etc.
Denmark came in first, followed by Switzerland, Iceland, and Norway. The United States came in at number thirteen, which is still relatively high up on the scale considering that Denmark has a score of 7.526 and the U.S. came in at 7.104; while Syria and Afghanistan were among the lowest scoring countries.
Basic niceties like individual freedom and healthy life expectancy are par for the course in the U.S. and Canada. But when your country is under siege with missiles raining down upon you, it’s difficult find peace of mind.
The easiest point to be made here, perhaps, is that security and social support are more important than we might think, at first, and that we should never take these luxuries for granted.
* * *
The meaning of success is subjective and different for each of us, depending on our life goals and points of view. However, in the end, we’re all human. We should strive toward living in such a way that allows us to feel most at peace with ourselves and those around us.
Regardless of how we spend each year, our lives are finite and only made up of so many years, so we should choose our paths wisely. The good news is that if we happen to get lost and wander around a bit, it’s always possible to forge a new path for ourselves.