why-success-can-be-stressedGuest article

Why success can also be stressful

First of all, there is the question of how we measure our success. In our culture, this is usually measured by income, sales figures, titles, publications, awards. The crux of the matter is that all of this can only be influenced by us to a limited extent.

The times we live in are both opportunity and danger. Because, on the one hand, it has never been so easy for people to follow visions, to realize dreams, to redefine themselves again and again and to be able to live talents. On the other hand, many new marketing and self-optimization theories suggest to us that everything is possible for everyone and always.

This thinking is driven in limitless possibilities by companies' efforts to get more and more out of their products and people.

Success orientation

If you look at this permanent success orientation from the outside, you notice that there are always new conditions to be fulfilled. As an executive, for example, you can calculate approximately how high your new income will be or what your new car will be when you make your next career move. How many overtime hours are expected for this and whether the customers will still buy the company's product in five years' time cannot be predicted.

No matter where we work. an upwardly mobile scale of success on us. If we have sold 100 books or bicycles or soaps, we want to sell 150. Once we have achieved this, we see that others sell 200 and are again dissatisfied. It is similar in the private sphere. If we have lost 5 kilos, it could also be 8 and then the skin is too flabby, and so on.

Success that is conditional cannot bring long-term happiness because conditions are constantly changing.

When success is addictive

In addition, reward, that is, a happy... Sense of achievement in the brain, through Dopamine arises. This messenger substance wears off. Just as your favorite cake doesn't taste as great the eighth time as it did when you started, the same is true with income, titles, or sales figures. We need more of them to feel as happy as before.

Another aspect is our unquenchable hunger for esteem. Hardly any of us grew up with enough positive recognition. What we take into life is a kind of pot with a hole in it. We are unconsciously continuously looking for the confirmation to be right, for Attention and recognition. Let's get them through our friends, Family or the job, it's never enough. Because as it is won, so it is lost. Since only we ourselves could satisfy the hunger.

Success based on external events drives us mercilessly to have more of it.

Successful = happy?

Fortunately, research now also says that happy people are more successful. Because they draw from other sources of strength. Namely, a more efficient brain and independence from external happiness factors. After all, they are already happy. This double advantage leads to so-called positive cycles.

I do what I do not only to become happy through the associated success. Conversely, the lack of success would unfortunately also make me unhappy. A happy brain has a broader perspective, is more likely to see solutions, be more creative and efficient.

If the success we have does not make us happy, neither would the one we strive for.

Stress due to striving for success

I myself work as a speaker and author in a market that is difficult to calculate. When and how often do organisers book, when do they pay? My strategy has been to use ever-increasing marketing efforts to build a business that I can pass on once, that runs "on its own", with a great team working with me and a network of colleagues who support each other. I've seen time and time again over the years that my hopes didn't come to fruition as I thought. Wouldn't believe it and invested even more.

I had aligned my goals with the wrong criteria, because I could not influence them. and my strategy didn't work. To admit this to myself was painful. Because the ego is offended, I blamed myself and, of course, felt very sorry for myself.

We make it especially difficult for ourselves in such moments because we evaluate the situation and ourselves negatively: Thoughts such as "failed", "embarrassing", "failed", etc. make additionally Stress. But the moment I made a new assessment, that of making my life easier by reorganizing myself, everything changed.

If we make life easier for ourselves, it will.

Define success yourself

It's all a matter of valuation. Which takes place only in our head. Whether I value what I have achieved, whether I stop comparing myself to my disadvantage, whether I think pleasantly or unpleasantly about myself: I decide. Thoughts bring or rob energy and well-being and in the end even health.

The reorganization of my work was accompanied by the question: What are my goals and criteria for success from now on? It would be absurd to continue in the same value system - just organized differently. My new credo, which accompanies me from now on, is therefore: Joy is my criterion for success. I have always enjoyed my work. But it was not my criterion for success. A subtle but essential difference.

The beauty of it: Joy always makes you happy and reduces stress. Joy is something I can influence myself: By my choice of what I do and how I do it. Through my attitude and my Self-careto be physically and mentally in a state that makes joy more possible.

Make your happiness dependent - if at all - on something you can influence.

This article is a guest contribution from Dr. Ilona Bürgel.


I am one of the first representatives of Positive Psychology in the German-speaking world and an expert for physical and mental well-being. I have a doctorate in psychology, am an author and lecturer. The invitation to a change of perspective runs like a red thread through my work - away from the fixation on external conditions in our constantly changing world, towards a good way of dealing with oneself.

I show very practical ways how it is possible to combine performance and well-being in the long run.