Why Successful People May Still Be Unhappy: The Illusion of Dream Fulfillment

Behind the scenes of many successful figures in the society, lies a battle that are invisible to the public eye. The fear of failure or falling behind competitors can consume one's thoughts, leaving little room for personal happiness.

11 Min Read

In a world that constantly equates success with happiness, it’s easy to fall into the trap of believing that achieving our dreams will banish all our nightmares.

We chase after our ambitions, convinced that the realization of our goals will usher in perpetual bliss.

However, the truth is often far more complex. Success and happiness, though intertwined, are not synonymous. It would help if you didn’t fool yourself into believing that when you make your dreams a reality, you’ve arrived.

Here is something most of us fail to understand; achieving success can sometimes, if not always bring new challenges and pressures that one might not have anticipated.

That’s right, success, as defined by society, often brings with it a certain expectation of happiness. The luxurious cars, the sprawling mansions, the high-paying jobs, and the social status – all seem to be the ultimate recipe for a joyous life.

In Nigeria, the societal and familial expectations placed on individuals can be immense. The success of one family member can be seen as a collective achievement, leading to increased responsibilities.

Successful entrepreneur now faces pressure to provide financial support to extended family members, contribute to community projects, and uphold a certain social status.

Don’t get me wrong! It’s good to help family and friends and make a change in your community. But sometimes these expectations can become burdensome, leading to feelings of being overwhelmed and isolated.

We sometimes forget that this young entrepreneur who has risen to prominence by creating thriving startups has fought through immense obstacles, from securing funding in a challenging economic environment to navigating the complex landscape of Nigerian bureaucracy.

Now, with their company making headlines, the pressure to maintain and exceed this success coupled with societal and familial expectations becomes a new source of stress.

It becomes even more stressful when the fear of losing it all gets hold of them. The entrepreneur, who once thrived on the excitement of building something new, now lives with the anxiety of sustaining their achievements.

The fear of failure can be paralyzing, preventing them from taking risks or enjoying the fruits of their labor. This constant vigilance can erode happiness, replacing it with a persistent sense of unease.

Successful individuals often find themselves at the top of their field but don’t think this is it, or they’ve hit a jackpot and sometimes considered untouchable.

While it feels good to be on top, this elevation in life can create a sense of isolation. As a popular Nigerian singer Asake would say, it lonely at the top.

They may at a point in their life struggle to find peers who can relate to their experiences or understand the pressures they face. As a result, it can lead to a sense of disconnection, diminishing the joy that success should ideally bring.

Here in Nigeria where community and family ties are deeply valued, this isolation can particularly turn into a nightmare, where everyone around you suddenly becomes a victim.

But here is a truth most people won’t want to tell you. They know the fact that you are good and probably have done the best you can. They know all this but won’t tell you and when you don’t support them or acknowledge their requests, they play the victim and you on the other hand, a villain.

Their words, ‘You wouldn’t care if you were in our shoes,’ are a calculated jab meant to trigger guilt and self-doubt.

It’s hard not to feel like a heartless monster when faced with such a pointed attack. At this point, they trigger a sense in you that makes you feel you’re a horrible person.

They know it’s your weakness, it worked before, so why won’t they use it on you over and over again? Believe me when I say this, they won’t stop until they get every dim they want from you.

Understand one thing, you can’t satisfy or please everyone. Know when to say yes and when to say no and most importantly don’t go back on your words especially if it’s something that would hurt you the most.

The Myth of Material Wealth

A common misconception is that material wealth equates to happiness. While financial success can certainly provide comfort and security, it does not guarantee emotional fulfillment.

I have a friend here in Lagos who is an actor and into movie-making. He is quite popular and has amassed considerable wealth and fame.

At least 6 out of 10 different places we’ve gone out together, people recognise and cheer him from afar; inside buses, shops, roads, and even filling stations — he has indeed made a name for himself.

Despite his success, he still finds himself feeling unfulfilled. The transient nature of fame, coupled with the pressures of maintaining a public image, creates a sense of emptiness in him.

He will always say to me, “I want people to treat and address me how they feel — the real version of themselves and not because of who I am.”

Of course, his wealth allows for a luxurious lifestyle, but it does not address the deeper emotional needs he wants such as genuine human connections, a sense of purpose, and personal growth.

I feel it could all be as a result of a hedonic treadmill which means an increased wealth and material possessions do not lead to lasting happiness.

Of course, people can quickly adapt to new levels of wealth and luxury, leading to a constant desire for more — just like my friend.

It’s not bad to yearn for more; but if not done right, this cycle of wanting and acquiring can become endless, leaving individuals perpetually dissatisfied despite their success.

Finding Meaning Beyond Success

So, if success doesn’t guarantee happiness, what does? The key lies in finding meaning and purpose beyond the pursuit of external achievements. Here are some strategies for cultivating lasting happiness.

Embracing Personal Growth

True happiness often stems from personal growth and self-discovery. You should invest time in activities that promote self-awareness, such as meditation, journaling, or seeking therapy.

Understanding one’s values, strengths, and passions can provide a sense of fulfillment that transcends external accomplishments.

Building Authentic Relationships

Authentic relationships are a cornerstone of happiness. Always prioritize building and maintaining genuine connections with family, friends, colleagues, and balance with work.

These relationships will provide you with emotional support, a sense of belonging, and opportunities for meaningful interactions that enrich life beyond material success.

Contributing to a Greater Good

Engaging in activities that contribute to the greater good of mankind can bring profound satisfaction.

Whether through philanthropy, volunteering, or mentoring others, giving back to the community fosters a sense of purpose, promoting self-reliance and trust in their skills.

You will soon find joy in knowing that their achievements are making a positive impact on the world around them, just as you’ve done for them.

Balancing Ambition with Contentment

Balancing ambition with contentment is crucial for lasting happiness. While it is important to set and pursue goals, it is equally important to appreciate and savor present moments.

Practicing gratitude and mindfulness can help you stay grounded, reducing the relentless pursuit of future success and fostering contentment in the present.

Success and happiness are not as intricately linked as society often portrays. While achieving our dreams can bring satisfaction, it does not necessarily eliminate life’s challenges or guarantee perpetual happiness.

Don’t fool yourself into believing that when you make your dreams a reality, you’ve now escaped your nightmares.

If you learn to understand the complexities of success and embrace strategies for personal growth, authentic relationships, and meaningful contributions, you can find lasting fulfillment.

Remember, in the quest for success, many people become perfectionists. While striving for excellence is commendable, an obsessive pursuit of perfection can be detrimental.

Perfectionists are rarely satisfied with their accomplishments, constantly setting higher standards for themselves.

This relentless drive can lead to chronic dissatisfaction and burnout, overshadowing any sense of achievement, with you either knowing or fully unaware.

Instead, strive to create a life that balances ambition with contentment, material wealth with emotional richness, and personal success with a sense of purpose.

In doing so, you’ll discover that true happiness lies not in the mere attainment of goals but in the journey of becoming the best version of yourself.

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