Project Happiness vs. Project Superiority

BY: Himdeep Singh

For a long time, I have been somewhat obsessed with the topic of happiness. I learned about different philosophies and their effect on how one views happiness. So, is happiness something you pursue? Or is it a byproduct of success? I always see happiness and success as a separate entity from one another. The society focuses on chasing superiority and finding happiness is left for the individual to find.


Multiple examples show that pursuing superiority in forms of wealth, success and status may lead to unethical behaviors. A New York Times article shows a  perspective on Lance Armstrong, a famous professional cyclist. Armstrong’s desire to win at all costs affected his attitude towards his career. He was noted for his ruthless attitude and running his team like a corporation. Armstrong used performance enhancing drugs. He even bypassed the testing system through different techniques and simply replaced the players or doctors on his team who did not follow his wishes. This shows that pursuing success heavily leads to formation of immoral principles.


We seek superiority for multiple reasons. Success is tethered to our self-esteem, therefore the more we succeed, the higher our self-esteem becomes. Seeking superiority makes us feel good and we feel that we are progressing towards mastery in a particular field. Today, we are socially conditioned by society to seek superiority. However, happiness and superiority have an indirect relationship


There are multiple reasons why the need for superiority has negative effect on happiness. First is social comparisons. When you have a strong drive for superiority, you are naturally going to compare yourself and compete with other people. This is because you cannot figure out whether you are superior or not unless you compare yourself to others. We derive happiness from connections with others, not from trying to dominate others.


Comparison eventually leads to envy, which is a big happiness killer. As Sonja Lyubomirsky says in her book “The How of Happiness”, you cannot be happy and envious at the same time.


The second reason is that people who chase superiority are more likely to be materialistic. This is because when you compare yourself to others, materialistic dimensions are the easiest manner to assess superiority. Thus, when you become materialistic, we are bound to be unhappy because you will surround yourself with things and will isolate yourself from people.


The third reason is that people who chase superiority are more likely to be disliked by others. This is because we tend to be more self-centered and will end up caring less about other people. The people in turn, naturally would care less about you as well.


After discussing the relationship between happiness and superiority, one is naturally concerned that getting rid of the need of superiority may lead to being a failure in life since the desire of superiority fuels, motivates, and energizes the person to keep moving forward. Research from MIT economists shows that as long as a task involved in mechanical skill, incentives were the best way to improve performance. However, when it comes to cognitive skills, incentives only add to the stress and pressure. This leads to poor performance.


Overall, the positive side of chasing superiority is that it serves as a motivation source to accomplish things. However, pursuing a work of meaning is an alternative source of motivation. In his book, “A Man’s Search For Meaning”, Viktor Frankl and his family were sent to concentration camps. His family was killed during his three years at the camp. Frankl shows that even in the dire circumstances, as long as one derives a meaning from suffering, life could still be fulfilling. Therefore, replacing meaning with superiority would still motivate us and we could still be happy through our work.  


Do Daemen students agree or do they find that happiness coincides with success?

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