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While I was perusing my daily reading, a thought crossed my mind about just how schizophrenic we as a (American) culture has become. On the one hand, we preach hard work — work hard, and your dream will come true. In fact, that’s part of what living the American Dream is all about. America is the land of opportunity — if you put your heart and sweat into things, you can make anything happen. On the other hand, we actively scoff at hard work. How many times have we labeled somebody as “smart”, “talented”, or “a natural”? By using words that relate more to innate abilities than hard work, we are in essence telling others that we value talent more than attempt, high IQ over effort.

But the reality is, success consists of a small part luck and innate abilities and a big part of work and planning. I like the list of Element of Success posted by Trent at The Simple Dollar. Of the seven items on the list, only two are elements outside of our immediate control — natural talent, and luck/opportunity. As Thomas Edison once said (and yes, somebody like Edison would know that it’s true since he’s achieved what most of us only dreamed of), “Genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration.”

As I thought further on this topic, it dawned on me that this kind of thinking spans more than just the way we think of success. More often than not, we frown upon any kind of synthetic, non-natural approach to obtaining most things in life. For example, do you know that we value natural happiness (i.e. I am happy because I have what I really want) over synthetic happiness (i.e. I can’t always have what I want so I will settle for second best)? But have you ever stopped and asked yourself, “Is one form of happiness better or worse than the other?” If you have, you will find that the answer is a BIG FAT NO. If you don’t believe me, check out the talk by Prof. Dan Gilbert of Harvard for validation.

So why do we behave this way? Why do we preach hard work on the one hand and scoff at work hard on the other? Why do we value natural happiness over synthetic ones? I think the answer lies in our egos. We preach hard work because we want to believe that we, too, can achieve greatness. But we scoff at the actual work to achieve greatness because if it were to really take hard work then we aren’t that smart or special at all. After all, if you are truly talented, everything should come to you effortlessly, right? Similarly, we value natural happiness because that kind of joy is obtained effortlessly. Synthetic happiness, on the other hand, is a consolation prize and only second best.

By the way, not everybody thinks this way. In particular, those who have the growth mindset actually embrace hard work because they believe it is only through hard work that one can achieve and stay at the front of the pack. Similarly, people with growth mindset would also be the first to embrace synthetic happiness because they realize ultimate happiness is a state of mind, not the result of any external circumstances. As long as you feel happy, it doesn’t really matter whether it comes in a natural or a synthetic form.

Now it’s your turn. Tell me what you think — do you agree or disagree with any of the content of this post? Please leave them in the comment.

February 2020
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