Last night I read one of the most powerful quotes I have ever come across: “What is Success? It is going to bed each night with your soul at peace.” It comes from Paulo Coelho’s book “Manuscript found in Accra” and is spoken by a wise figure known as the Copt as he addresses a crowd of frightened people the evening before their inevitable doom the following day during the siege of Jerusalem. I like this because it seems to answer one of life’s greatest questions. We are taught that the point of life is to be successful. But nobody can say exactly what success is. The pervasive notion of success seems to be that it is in monetary wealth, fame, or power. How many people have that but seem miserable or hollow on the inside? What does it take to reach that notion of success? Often it takes the very sacrifice of our soul. Surely that cannot be true success. I find that Coelho’s answer, that success is what allows your soul to be at peace, must be true success.
The beautiful thing about this definition of success is that it may look different for every unique soul. With this definition it is entirely possible that for some people success is great amounts of material wealth. I wouldn’t know but it is probably pretty damn peaceful to fall asleep in your private jet on your way to your chalet in the Swiss Alps after spending the day jet skiing off the coast of the Maldives. But remember that in Coelho’s description the success is what allows the soul to be at rest, which means that it must reconcile with its past, and if that financial wealth defines one’s success, they must come to terms with the price paid to obtain it. At some point in the pursuit of wealth there often comes a time where the means are no longer worth it. Can that wealth be obtained without harming others, can it be had without sacrificing values, can it be had without sacrificing relationships? If so, by all means, pursue it. If that is what puts your soul at rest that is what success and by this definition happiness mean to you.
I have written several posts based on the lives of famous figures who lay out their own advice on how to find success. Arnold Schwarzenegger gave his 6 rules for success that helped him follow his dreams. For him that success and happiness were in becoming a body building champion and then a famous actor, both of which he did before going on to becoming governor of California, something that even he probably would have never dreamed of. In my post on Steve Jobs he talks about chasing your dreams, pursuing your passions and the joy of creating. That was happiness for him: innovating, creating, and developing. For the Dalai Lama happiness is in compassion, feeling a connection to others, and in meditation. For Marcus Aurelius and the Stoics, success was in mastering their own mind and controlling their wants and desires. For Brene Brown success is in the ability to be courageous, be bold and vulnerable, and in helping others. For Viktor Frankl it was finding meaning in his suffering and making sure he lived to share his work on psychology.
The reason I bring up all of those names is because while we can use their words, their lives, and their examples as a roadmap, they cannot find happiness or success for us. They can only help us. I go back to the opening quote by Coelho because while others have dedicated books and speeches to what it is to be happy, and I will gladly continue reading and hearing what they have to say, Coelho sums it up so simply. From now on I may use that short phrase as the answer to what happiness is. In its brevity it encourages greater thought. Something we should all ask ourselves is what will make me able to go to bed every night with my soul at peace? No two answers will be identical, and I would imagine that for most of us, our precise answers may change over time. As a young adult putting your soul at rest may be finding a perfect role in your dream career or falling in love. Later it may become knowing your kids are taken care of, are healthy, and happy. As an old person it may be going to bed knowing that should you not wake the next day, that you lived your life to the fullest, made lots of meaningful relationships and ultimately left a positive ripple on the world you leave behind. Those are just some thoughts that come to my mind.
Whomever you are I would hope that upon reading this post you will consider Coelho’s quote and ask yourselves what it is that would allow your soul to be at peace. If something requires you to live in such a way that your soul is in conflict, or unable to rest, I would say that you are spending your time the wrong way and urge you to search your soul, connect, and start living in a way that allows it to rest. If we all take the time to look after ourselves and nurture our souls we will make the whole world a better place, for it is enriched through the growth of every individual, and if even a single soul is in conflict then the soul of the world cannot be truly at peace.