Ambition and Happiness


In life, there is an uneasy balance between ambition and happiness. If you are too ambitious you may never be happy. When you reach one rung on the ladder, then you’re desperately scrambling for the next. On the other hand, if you’re just happy with the status quo, you may never do something truly extraordinary.

Recently someone told me “I’m happy with a good library and a thrift shop”. Now, here’s a person that’s going to be happier than most—her expectations are pretty easy to meet. BUT she may never reach her full potential. And would a company want to hire someone like this, or would it be better to hire someone who says they won’t be happy until they’ve earned a million dollars?

The sad truth is that most highly successful people err on the side of ambition. They’re never satisfied with the status quo and so they’re usually not happy people…

Steve Jobs is known to relentlessly push his people to build the next killer device. He’s often been called an egomaniac and we know he’s a screamer.  But Jobs isn’t alone here. The same is true for Gates, Disney and Edison. Does being great mean being unhappy with how things are? After all, no one less than the Governor of California (“the Governator”) said the secret to success is to “Stay Hungry”.

Doesn’t personal growth require some ambition? And isn’t there something about personal growth that leads to happiness. It seems that the answer must be in the following:

  • Finding a Balance: There is a balance between enjoying what you have and pushing yourself to achieve the next level. It can be difficult to strike, but it’s there. And the best growth is supposed to come by pushing yourself just barely out of your comfort zone.
  • Enjoying the Journey: Because you never know when you’ll reach the next rung of the ladder, you have to enjoy the process. As long as you’re moving forward, you have something to be happy about. It’s not just the destination.


Where ambition ends happiness begins.
– Hungarian Proverb 

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One thought on “Ambition and Happiness

  1. So I wandered onto your blog because I rememebered that I hadn’t read any new blogs in awhile. And I found this one, which I had somehow missed. And I have a question…

    Was that “someone” who was happy with a good library and a thrift shop ME? If so, cool. If not, well, she sounds cool. And more importantly, happy. Even if she doesn’t reach her full potential in a traditional career sense, I bet she sees her life as successful nonetheless.

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