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Have you ever thought that despite achieving what many would consider equals success, you’re not actually happy ?

We’re conditioned from a very young age to aim for certain things in life that are considered to be successful – get a good job (whatever that might be in your belief system – maybe your parents would ask if you want to be a doctor, a lawyer, an accountant, a business owner). 

Whatever it was that you were taught to believe equalled success isn’t really the point – the point is that so many of us expend boundless amounts of energy working towards a preconceived notion of what it is to be successful. I am one of those people.

Driven to Succeed, But Never Quite Grasping Happiness

For reasons none other than an unhappy home when I was 17, coupled with a bit of a rebellious and impetuous nature, I didn’t go to university. 

What I did do was decide that I would go out into the world, get a job with opportunities for advancement, be independent, and work my bum off to be the best I could be. I worked harder than many, constantly striving for a promotion, a higher salary and more responsibility at work. 

I figured that the more money I earnt, the nicer things I could own and experience, the happier I would be.

On the outside I had things well sorted when it came to adulting and life success. My career looked fabulous, I’d beaten the odds and survived a rare and aggressive cancer and witnessed my son grow into a beautiful human being who makes me gloat with proud-mama happiness.

I met the one person on the planet who actually does complete me (after two long-term test relationships), had a home that many would be proud to live in, and enjoyed overseas holidays once or twice a year. 

Sounding pretty good, but despite all these successes, I began to realize that the version of happiness I had been chasing, was always just out of reach. 

Don’t get me wrong here, I’m not about to slam someone down for being a high achiever – in fact, I’m all for it if the choice is that or apathy. But let’s really take a long hard look at success and happiness – often they aren’t the same thing.

I did a lot of work analysing my life, and with my hand on my heart I can say that I’m now lucky enough to live a life that makes me truly happy. It actually doesn’t look much like my former ‘successful’ life, but it’s my new version of successful, intentional living. And it sparks joy for me almost every single day! (Let’s be real … it is not perfect, it does have flaws, and there will always be things I’d like to be different. That’s how I’m wired! But this is by far the happiest I have ever been for years on end).

My new life didn’t come overnight… (I’ll write more about that in another post)

It was actually at a goal setting retreat for CEOs that I had an epiphany:

The very thing that had brought me to the goal setting retreat (being a CEO), was the thing that was getting in the way of my own true happiness. 

With the help of a talented business coach, I was able to define what a happy and successful life actually looked like for me. I think this is the biggest blocker for people who are successful, but unhappy – how to work out what will actually bring you a sense of lasting happiness and fulfilment in life.  

It might seem kind of obvious, but I know it’s an enigma for a lot of people. It’s especially difficult if you are living a life that is successful in the eyes of others, whose opinion you care about. 

Here are some thought provoking questions to help you begin to define what your version of a successful, intentional life might look like. 

I encourage you to answer the questions without imposing boundaries on yourself – you might think that if you answer something in a particular way that this might put a complete stop to the possibility of achieving your dream life. (Most people will limit the possibilities for themselves for financial reasons).  Be bold and voice your dreams!

Try to be as open as you can – there is always more than one way to get to where you want to go – so don’t squash an idea based on your first limiting thought that something won’t be possible. There’s always another way 😉

7 Questions to help you design a happy life:

1. When was the last time you really felt happy for days on end?

I’m not talking about a fleeting happy moment here – this is days on end – here’s an example.

I really love getting out and about in the camper-van (think no make-up, comfy old jeans and t-shirt, 80’s music, dogs in the back, and my bestie beside me as we go exploring for a week or two. The key’s for me here are who I was with, the freedom of not having to conform to a corporate look, exploring nature. Your turn:

  • where were you
  • what were you doing
  • who were you with
  • what are the specifics of that time that really brought you happiness

2. What are the things that make you spring out of bed full of excitement about the day ahead?

I used to begin the week with dread – I loathed Sunday evenings, thinking about going back to work the next day. I now (almost always) look forward to the week. Think about what puts fire in your belly! What floats your boat?

3. What makes you feel heavy and weighs you down?

Some examples might be health concerns, a toxic work environment, spending time with certain people (not all friendships are healthy… this was a realization I had to come to grips with). It could be certain social settings (such as an introvert in the middle of a big party … you get the drift!)

4. Are there things in your life that make you feel stuck?

It could be something like wanting to start a blog, but having no clue how to get a website built. It might be related to your location (ie. living in an isolated place), or a lack of confidence to embark on a change in your life, even though in your heart you know you want it.

5. Can you identify the environment that makes you feel calm, happy, joyful, ‘at home’?

  • Do you feel at home in nature, do you prefer the beach, the mountains or something else?
  • Do you enjoy crowds and big cities?
  • Is the environment that you live in the same as the one that makes you feel happy?

6. What work do you do, how do you spend your days?

  • If you could do any type of work, without limitations of money or location, what would you do?
  • Are they the same?

7. Do you already have a vision for a happy life? … describe it

  • Where are you living?
  • Who are you with?
  • How are you spending your days?
  • What is your source of income?
  • Who are you socializing with?
  • What is your community like?
  • What challenges are you facing?

I’d love to hear what you thought of this post – or if you need help to discover, design and live your dream life – drop me a note via email (click here), or leave a comment below. I promise to personally respond within 24 hours. Cheers, Carol.


About the Author

Carol van der Poel describes herself as a recovered CEO who is an advocate of intentional living. Together with her husband and two dogs, 5 years ago she left a typical urban life and career in Australia to live on tropical island in the Philippines, and has never been happier.
She runs a successful beach resort and helps others to discover and live their dream life, not someday, but now.