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Success at Work Doesn’t Always Satisfy

Work success isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That’s the gist of an article in The Wall Street Journal titled, “Is This It?’ When Success Isn’t Satisfying.” The article states:

You got the job, won the award, launched the new project to accolades. So why don’t you feel better? “You get the title and it’s, like, ‘Ugh. Is this it?’” says Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School who leads a study on how people thrive.

Sometimes, getting the thing is just as delicious as we imagine. Other times, we climb and climb, only to be underwhelmed by what we find at the top: more work, political wrangling, the feeling of being a fraud. Or the success high wears off fast, replaced by that old panic we hoped the accomplishment would finally cure. Then we wonder: Where’s the next win?

We’re all sprinting on what psychologists call a hedonic treadmill. That is, we might get a hit of joy when we achieve something, but we eventually return to our baseline level of happiness (or unhappiness). Whatever heights we reach, we’re still, well, us.

The article quotes a man named Andy Dunn who sold his clothing line to Walmart for $310 million. Mr. Dunn, now 44, spent years strategizing and fantasizing about such a sale but says it was a mirage. Building the company brought him more happiness, he says, than the eventual payout. Dunn said, “From the outside, people think, ‘Oh, my God, amazing, [but] I learned that those are just illusory things.”

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