How should we define success?

When you are trapped on the hamster wheel of life, nose to the grindstone, stuck at the office, coming up for air too infrequently and not spending enough time with family and loved ones, you are bound to stop and think occasionally - what is it all about?

``Work to live'' is a maxim many would do well to keep in mind when, for them, things may be out of kilter and it becomes more a case of ``live to work''.

Some people choose to spend as many hours as possible at work - driven by ambition or dedication, or because they may have little else in their life to focus on. But for many others, living to work may be necessary to simply earn a crust and hold their heads above water, or to keep up with the expectations of unreasonable bosses.

Last week the ODT published a report on the annual National Business Review's ``Rich List''. More than 99.99% of New Zealanders are not on the list, which has a $50million threshold for inclusion - a mere bagatelle for some. All up, the rich-listers' fortunes totted up came to $100.8 billion - a vast sum of money which could do a lot to help our formidable social problems including substandard housing, hungry children, appalling rates of depression and suicide, and poverty.

What good does such a list really do, other than encourage jealousy and pander to an obsession with money and material objects?

It raises the question of why we should be in such thrall to people merely because they are rich? Much better to admire others - the wealthy and the not-so-wealthy - for contributions they make to their communities, their philanthropy to worthy causes and support of charities. It would be an eye-opener if it were possible to publish an annual list of those who have given away the most to others, although most philanthropists are reluctant to have their largesse scrutinised.

How, then, should we define success? Money alone does not equal success, other than in the most superficial way. Money does not necessarily make one feel happy or fulfilled. And, to add further complexity to the equation, success is not a guarantee of that either.

Often we are shocked when we hear someone we consider ``successful'' or to have ``really made it'' suffers from the same doubts, or is tortured by a lack of self-esteem or cannot see the way ahead, as those of us living less glamorous lives.

Many around New Zealand were stunned by the sudden death last week of television newsreader and journalist Greg Boyed.

As well as being a talented and successful broadcaster, Mr Boyed was a gifted musician and dedicated to his family. Yet, he was reportedly suffering from depression and, because of that, may have been unable to see his life in the same way that others did. In the end, despite all those apparent ``successes'', it made no difference.

Also last week, the full extent of New Zealand's horrific suicide problem was revealed. In the past four years, suicides in the Southern District Health Board region have more than doubled, with 65 in the 12 months to the end of June. Nationally, 668 people took their own lives in that period, with suicide now at its highest level per 100,000 people - 13.67 - for more than 11 years.

Clearly, New Zealand has an enormous mental health problem to deal with. And one has to ask, what will fewer and fewer jobs in the future, as robots take over tasks, do to the country's combined mental health?

All those material measures of success - money, belongings, position, power - are, in the end, actually immaterial ones.

We need to care more for others around us. When you ask how someone is, mean it. And, if they are not well, do something about it.

Somehow we need to recalibrate the clock of success. Living a good life, acting kindly, putting others first - these are the signs of a good life well lived.

That is success.

 

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