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Tempered Ambition


Techniques Happiness > Tempered Ambition

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When you are thinking about your life's goals and the great ambitions you may seek, also realistically consider the real happiness you will find when you have reached your goal. Also consider the realistic happiness you may find along the way.

Beware of being driven to the point of always putting the job first and putting off recreation and fun as 'not now' or unimportant. It is too easy to be focused on the goal and forget to pause and smell the roses.

So include happiness in your ambitions, and not just as something that will happen when you reach your goals. Plan for ways to relax and have fun along the way. Be spontaneous and smile as you work. Find pleasure even in small things.


When being brought up, we are often taught that work is serious and a key purpose in life. We learn that success is good and failure is bad.

Unsurprisingly, then, a common route people take when seeking happiness in life is to have a driving ambition for success. The want to build a career, becoming a manager, an executive or running their own company.  And with enough luck and determination, many do well, even if not achieving their life's goals. Other seek even rarer goals, wanting to be a pop star, a national politician or a TV personality. The common principle is that when deciding what to do, ambition always comes both first and last.

Yet talk to senior managers, business owners and pop stars and you will find that they are seldom happier than other people, despite the fast cars and big houses. Getting to the top and staying there takes all their energy. They are constantly overloaded with things that need doing to the point where they do not seem to enjoy very much at all.

Judge and Kammeyer-Mueller (2012) used data from the Terman life study that tracked hundreds of people through their lives. 717 highly able individuals were studied over seven decades of their lives and, despite many academic and workplace accomplishments, these dynamic people were found to to live somewhat shorter lives and be only slightly happier than their less-motivated peers.

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Find Benefit, Take A Break, Remind Yourself

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