Obsession for Success, Epidemic of the 21st Century?

The obsession with success has become almost synonymous with our personal worth. Not just success itself, but our obsession with it. When someone does not aim to earn a lot of money or have an “enviable” job, they usually hear questions like: “So, what do you aspire to?”. It is as if success, translated into money, had to be the backbone of any life at all times, just as it was in its day, for example, religion.

How many times have we felt a drop of envy in thinking that others were more successful than us? On how many occasions have we compared our car with another of greater range? Or our house with a bigger one?

Why do we always aspire to more and why do we sometimes maintain that aspiration by being aware of the amount of bitterness we receive in return? Thus, today we ask ourselves: is it inherent to the human being to achieve maximum success or is it a conditioning imposed by society?

The obsession for success: natural or cultural?

Since we are little we are bombarded with messages that speak of the ideal life plan. The imposition of a specific ideology often limits our view of other points of view. That is, if we are taught to think that success is having a lot of money, we will believe that, ultimately, our current account will mark how good or bad we are. If you teach us that success is treating others well, our goal will be to try to be good people. Thus, social influence plays a large role in our social and personal aspirations.

There is no natural law that states that the human being must accumulate a lot of money or have an innumerable list of properties. The obsession with success is about a social and cultural imposition. Despite this, we sometimes forget that we have the capacity to dispose of what a sector of society proposes.

“Among all the qualities that develop happiness, I am deeply convinced that altruistic love is the most effective.”

-Mathieu Ricard-

Obsession for success and frustration

Some of the most widespread epidemics of the 21st century are depression and anxiety. The WHO (World Health Organization) affirmed in 2016 that more than 350 million people suffered from depression. And in 2012 he said that what is most worrying is that “in 20 years, depression will be the disease that most humans suffer, overcoming cancer and cardiovascular disorders.”

Will the obsession with success have something to do with it? Absolutely. The imposition of unrealistic goals frustrates us to the extent that we do not achieve them. Many people say that their life is a failure because they do not have a good job, they have a “normal” car and live in a house “not very big”. However, they do not appreciate that for which others can envy them. It is as if the natural thing is to look at the sky, instead of the horizon or the earth.

Appreciating what we have and being directed in a morally correct direction is much more admirable than the desire and desire to accumulate material goods and prestige. Moreover, if we look closely, those whose obsession with success is too high, are the ones who suffer the most. However, those who care about others and are happy with what they have, enjoy greater happiness. Clarify that being happy with what you have is not synonymous with conformism, but knowing how to enjoy what each one has in the present moment.

“It is not richer who has more, but the one who needs less.”

-Facundo Cabral-

Diogenes and Alexander the Great

The story tells that Alexander the Great wanted to have an encounter with Diogenes, who lived in a barrel. In fact, this was one of his few belongings. For some it was bullshit and jokes and for others it was a wise one. When Alexander the Great appeared before him, he made him aware of his admiration and they engaged in a conversation. Alejandro went to Diogenes saying: “Ask me what you want. I can give you anything you want, even those that the richest men in Athens would not dare to dream of. “

Diogenes had the opportunity to change his life in a radical way. To live in a palace, to enjoy fortunes. However, his response was not what we would all have expected. Diogenes replied:

“Of course. It will not be me who prevents you from showing your affection for me. I would like to ask you to stay away from the sun. That your rays touch me is, right now, my greatest wish. I have no other need and it is also true that only you can give me that satisfaction.”

It is said that Alejandro affirmed that “if it had not been Alejandro, I would have liked to be Diogenes”. This anecdote reflects the cultural nature of some needs. For Diogenes the success was to be calm and to enjoy the rays of sun, for Alexander it was the excessive ambition to conquer more and more lands.

From the obsession with success to compassion

Matthieu Ricard, a doctor in molecular biology and a Buddhist monk, has been described as “the happiest man on the planet.” Ricard says that “compassion, the intention to eliminate the sufferings of others and the causes of their suffering, linked to altruism, the desire to offer welfare to others is the only unifying concept that allows us to find our way in this labyrinth of complex concerns. “

“All the happiness of this world comes from wishing happiness for others.
All the suffering of this world comes from wanting one’s happiness.”


Ricard uses a “labyrinth of worries” as a synonym of the world in which we move – and to which we have somehow shaped it. And it ensures that compassion gives meaning to our existence. So instead of looking only our success, happiness and much of the meaning of life happens to take care of the interests of others.

He adds that happiness “is not just a succession of pleasurable experiences. It is a way of being that comes from the cultivation of a set of basic human qualities, such as compassion, inner freedom, inner peace, resilience, etc. ” And it also gives us the key to developing these qualities: “each of these qualities is a skill that can be cultivated through mental training and altruism.”