How To Deal When Ambition Becomes Chronic Discontent

unhappy-childFor anyone who wants to be “successful,” ambition is key. Ambition is the tendency to strive toward a goal with singular purpose, determination, and hard, hard work. CEOs are ambitious. Movie stars are ambitious. Ambition also requires constant motivation, and it also necessitates a certain amount of discontent: when you meet a goal, you must not stop. You have to meet another, until you’ve reached your ultimate goal, whatever that may be. But for many ambitious people, this constant striving-for also creates chronic discontent that prevents us from even being happy about what we’ve accomplished.

Once you hit a major milestone or reach a goal you’ve been working toward for a long time, the first instinct is often to celebrate, indulge in some happiness, pat yourself on the back, relax. For a minute, you may be content. But there’s also a stigma associated with contentedness. We tend to think of being content as when we stop pushing ourselves to greater heights. Those who are content are lazy or unambitious. Those who are content are foolish.

Why be content when we can keep learning, changing, growing, accomplishing? Accruing wealth? Attaining status? So instead of indulging in contentedness, when we reach a goal, we immediately think of the next goal, and the next and the next. Discontent drives us forward. Ambition is laudworthy, hard work is essential, but discontent is often the unfortunate byproduct of our efforts.

For me, every time I met a goal in my career or generally in my adult life, I was whelmed with this sense of frustration. First came this incredible high, this euphoria of finally getting where I thought I should be, where I had to be. The elation lasted a little while, and then I began over-analyzing. Is this as good as I thought it was going to be? Is this exactly where I want to be going? Am I happy?

I define happiness as contentedness, to a certain extent. Happiness, for me, means having the basic necessities such as a home, food to eat and time to do what you like. I also define happiness as having emotional support, whether that comes in the form of family, good friends or a partner. If I can come home to someone I love and be able to have a drink on the weekends with those people, my life has been successful. But happiness also means fulfillment, and that means a career I can be proud of.

If happiness equals contentedness, is ambition at odds with happiness? Does ambition have to cause chronic discontent? Without discontent, can we ever go further in life?

Ambition breeds discontent when you feel as if your happiness is contingent upon reaching a goal. You think, “I’ll be happy when I get a house, when I’m promoted, or when I have kids. I’ll be happy when I’m partner in a firm. I’ll be happy when I open a business.” And when you do those things, you find that happiness wasn’t packaged along with the goal.

Happiness exists separate from accomplishments. I’ve come to realize that in between waiting for things to happen and suspending my contentedness, I was not at all practicing my own definition of happiness. As well as basic needs, our happiness also depends on our sense of self-worth and how we practice self-love. And we can always love ourselves even if we’re not anywhere close to reaching our goals yet.

What’s key is a balance between our healthy, motivational discontent and the kind that tends to sap our lives of regular, everyday, unremarkable happiness. Cause I always feel like the best kind of happiness is the kind you don’t always notice.

About The Author
Lisa Lo Paro
Lisa is a freelance writer and bibliophile living on the outskirts of New York City. She likes 2 a.m. with a good book, takes cream in her coffee and heavily filters her photos. Check out her blog The Most Happy, her Instagram, and Twitter.