There was a recent reflection printed in the N.Y. Times about happiness. The gist of this article was that there are three components of happiness: genes, events and work. That is, the genetic component of some people accounts for their being happy people (they were born happy). The second factor was “luck”, being at the right place at the right time. The third was work, doing what I enjoy doing. Religion didn’t feature very prominently in this lineup, likely a major omission.
But overlooking this, we might want to ask about another element in happiness, the success factor, i.e., achieving what I set out to do with my life. Does being contented with myself even though others wonder why, or always winding up in the line or the lane that moves along quickly, or enjoying my job even though it is a dead end, exhaust what it takes to be happy? What about success?
Some may think that success is not all that important, perhaps because there are different ways of computing success. In baseball lore, there were three players in the 1940s who were considered stars and successes because of their hitting prowess: Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees, Ted Williams of the Red Sox and Stan Musial of the Cardinals. Their success was calculated in terms of the hits they made at the plate that helped their teams to win games. But there was a fourth player who was a contemporary of these three, Luke Appling of the White Sox. He never achieved success in the way that DiMaggio, Williams or Musial did. But he did succeed at the plate in another way: by hitting foul balls, an endless series of foul balls. He seldom drove teammates around the bases by his hitting ability. But he did wear down opposing pitchers by his uncanny ability at the plate to hit one foul ball after another, to the point where even the star pitchers facing eventually him had to be taken out of the game and replaced. And that was a success—wearing down a pitcher whom his teammates could not hit, to be replaced by another pitcher whom they could hit.
So Luke had his own way of winning games. He exhausted opposing pitchers, and exasperated their fans. He was a success, with a plug of chewing tobacco in his mouth for interminable periods of time at bat, dirtying the plate in a disgusting way, all calculated to win the game. He seemed to be happy in this less than admirable way, enjoying little esteem on the process. If the comparison is not out of order, his formula for success was comparable to that of a skunk, which enjoys no esteem comparable to that of the noble lion, tiger or elephant, but nonetheless gets its way.
So being happy consists not only of genes, events or work. It can also occur through success, achieving what one sets to do: winning a game, or driving away threatening animals. Being good at what one does elicits admiration from others, even if there is no envy at one’s genetic endowments, or jealous at the success one achieves or desirous of work comparable to it. Being successful at what one does is another formula for happiness as efficacious as genes, events or work, even if scorned for being like another foul ball.