For the youth of today, aspirations for the future are never far from our minds. A popular aspiration is to become successful- but what does this entail? In today’s society, where constant glimpses of celebrities’ lives repeatedly show almost parallel worlds of lavish ostentation, the indications of true success are commonly perceived to include excessive wealth and power. However, not everybody is able to achieve these standards. Indeed, the ideas of wealth and power could hardly exist if they were achieved by everybody due to their comparative nature. Yet the millions of people who do not reach these levels are not and should not be considered “unsuccessful”- indeed they may be better off than those at the top.
Due to our tendency to equate wealth with success, many stumble into the trap of attempting to work themselves to the bone in order to satisfy their goals. Whilst drive is certainly an important attribute, too much can be detrimental. Bronnie Ware, a palliative nurse who counsels the dying in their last days, compiled a list of the most common deathbed regrets. According to her study, the second most common regret was working too hard, with many expressing the wish to have instead spent more time with close family and friends. Out of the top five, there were no references to wishes for more wealth or more power, only desires to have been truer to oneself and to have maintained social interaction. One thought provoking regret was the simple wish to have let oneself be happier.
Moreover, whilst it appears that wealth ceases to become important in life’s final days, it may also be true that only a certain amount is necessary to feel content throughout the majority of a lifetime. Many people idolise the extravagant lifestyles of the few, and daydream about a life spent without difficulty. However, research has suggested that although households with higher incomes were considered “happier” (happiness being difficult to quantify) than those with lower ones, there does exist what is known as the “comfortable standard”. Once this level of wealth has been achieved, earning additional income did not lead to additional levels of happiness.
In addition to this, there are the challenges that a life spent saturated with every desire presents. Many are familiar with the tale of the sword of Damocles: a wealthy and powerful king offers a man the opportunity to live his luxurious lifestyle, on the condition that a sword is suspended above the man's head by a single horsetail hair. Eventually, the unrelenting danger causes the man to beg to be released. Although a classical tale, the truth of it still remains poignant today- that great power often dangles on the edge of a great downfall. Indeed, many classical authors seemed to agree with the sentiment: Euripides wrote in his play Medea: “Excess brings no benefit to us, only greater disasters on a house, when God is angry”.
The purpose of this article is not to promote an idle lifestyle with no aspirations: dreams filled with glory and riches can offer a healthy drive and give purpose to life. However, although our society seems quite adept at recognising the virtues of a life filled with extravagance and exception, we often seem to forget the values an ordinary life can offer, and to neglect these simple things may be to neglect our chances of true happiness.