Success vs. Happiness: What's the difference?

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Difference between Success and Happiness

Success and happiness are two attributes that are often considered to be linked. Many people think that if they achieve success, for example by attaining their professional goals, they will become happy. However, happiness is not based on success alone, and it is not necessary to seek success in order to find happiness.

The Individual

Happiness is an attribute that relates to the individual. Success can also be attributed to the individual, but it can also be considered in terms of larger groups of people, such as businesses, institutions, teams or even countries. A sports team will be considered successful if it wins many games. An individual will be considered successful if they are promoted to a more powerful position at work. A business will be considered successful if it increases its profits. However, it is only the individual who will be considered either unhappy or happy. Some countries, such as Bhutan, have begun to think about the happiness of their people as a group, but this is still rare.


Success tends to be measured in terms such as financial success rather than in more abstract terms such as happiness. Happiness is far more difficult to measure. It is typically assessed through surveys of happiness or quality of life, which depend upon people's own reported assessment of their happiness. The difficulty in measuring happiness compared to other more easily measurable forms of success has led to governments, businesses and other organizations tending to value success in terms of measures such as higher profits, increased GDP or improved health and employment statistics, rather than in terms of happiness.

External Perception

Success is something that people often measure externally. Individuals judge their own success in relation to the people around them, and it is often through the opinions of others that people judge their own success. However, happiness is something that people have to judge for themselves, internally. It can be impossible to tell, from the outside, whether another person is actually happy. Happiness comes from within, so even the most successful and apparently happy person can actually feel unhappy inside. It is common for successful people to be viewed as happy, but it is just as easy for people to be unhappy when they are successful as it is for them to be happy when other people might consider them unsuccessful. Happiness tends to come from having good relationships with friends and family, feeling pride in one's work and achievements, having a purpose in life and learning how to feel content.

Similarities and Differences

Happiness is a goal that many people want to reach in their lives. Many people also want to become successful, and they often believe that it is through attaining this success that they will become happy. However, happiness and success are not closely linked and they do not always come together.

  • Happiness is an attribute of the individual.
  • Success can be attributed to the individual or to a group.
  • Happiness is far more difficult to measure than success since it is less tangible.
  • Happiness comes from within, but success is often judged externally, by comparison to other people and through the opinions of others.


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