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Happy or successful? You choose


Happy or successful? You choose

Is happiness something some people are blessed to be born with while others have the misfortune of missing out on? Peter Kelly explores the question…


Would you rather be happy or successful? I once a dated a girl who was obsessed with the idea of being successful. She was extremely driven and focus on her goal of becoming successful.

Every year she sets out goals and targets for herself and at the end of the year she would tick off which ones she had accomplished and which still needed to be worked on. I often asked her would she rather be happy or successful?

And she would answer that to her, they were the same thing. They are not and in isolation or if we were living in a vacuum her answer that they were both the same thing would seem completely ludicrous. But I think in the context of the society we live in, many people can relate to her belief that they are the same thing.

We all can see clearly and talk about propaganda when we see it elsewhere. We all know that the Chinese people are subjected to propaganda and so are the North Koreans. There is a pandemic museum in China where there is no mention of Wuhan labs and the story of the pandemic sees China star as a hero country that saved the World with its diplomatic generosity and supreme technology in developing a vaccine to the virus.

But what about our propaganda. What lies are we told to keep us in check and to encourage us to act in the interests of our betters. The big lie of our capitalist, materialistic society is that success equals happiness and buying things makes us feel whole.

Our propaganda is our advertising. And it is incredibly effective. Happiness comes from big houses, fast cars, luxury holidays and designer clothes. We are bombarded with the imagery of this lie, non-stop. And since the dawn of social media the message is in overdrive. If success equalled happiness, Americans would be the happiest people who ever lived in human history.

Now don’t get me wrong, this is not one of those ‘money doesn’t buy happiness and poor people have nothing but they seem happier’ articles. People in rich countries are understood to be happier than people in poor countries and that of course makes sense. Ignorance maybe bliss but it’s hard be completely ignorant now with Google in town.

I work in a busy pharmacy in London in a borough that has incredible inequality. Some of my patients are hugely wealthy and successful and some have absolutely nothing. And most are somewhere in between. Some of my patients seem very unhappy.

I have one patient who, every time I talk to him, I feel like he wants to beat me up. He seems so angry and upset and then I have other patients who are always smiling and friendly and seem to cheer everyone up every time they enter the shop.

One day I was wondering if I had to pick who I thought were the 10 happiest patients who come into the shop. Who would they be and would they have anything in common?

And this is the part, that caught my curiosity and stopped me in my tracks. From what I can see, they have absolutely nothing in common other than they seem happy. If the myths of our society are true then the ten happiest patients in my shop should all be rich and successful. They are not.

From an observation point of view, it is almost as if some people are just born happy and some are not. And interestingly enough, the science seems to back that up to a degree. Some studies suggest that genetics make up an estimated 40 per cent of your ability to be happy. The other 60 per cent is down to your environment and activities.

Happiness is roughly defined as having satisfaction with life, feeling engaged with what you do on and a daily basis and having a sense of meaning and purpose in life. Is there a happiness gene? Studies have shown that people with a higher level of the gene called 5-HTTLPR reported high life satisfaction.

If there is a happiness gene, does that mean the pursuit of happiness is a futile endeavour? Not necessarily. The experts believe it is totally possible to rewire our brains for happiness. What do they suggest?

Let go of perfectionism.


Feeling grateful.

Eat well.


Connect with a higher power.

None of them suggest to work as hard as possible to become as successful as possible so that you can buy more stuff. And yet that is the message we are constantly and mostly bombarded with.

Does advertising damage our health and happiness? And if so, should it come with warnings like cigarettes?



Peter Kelly is a community pharmacist based in London and stand-up comedian.


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