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What some people mistake for the high cost of living is really the cost of high living.”   Doug Larson.

[The following is a guest blog post from Dr. Robert Giacalone, Professor of Human Resource Management at Temple University].

Everyone wants to be successful, but it seems that success is increasingly narrowly defined. It means that you are promotable, that you received raises, and that you helped the company make lots of money. It’s the aspirations we are all told are most important.

But let’s face it—there are lots of successful people who meet those criteria for success but fail miserably at those “less important” aspects of success. Put bluntly, they have all the status and wealth they want, but their family relationships, their sense of personal happiness and their life meaning have all gone sour. They live a rather glum existence.

So many wonder how it is possible that with all the work success they’ve had, they are so miserable. The question is a symptom of the problem, for it fails to recognize that it is their success, or at least the focus on it, that has caused their misery—at least that’s what so many of the studies tell us.

These studies indicate that such strivings are associated with lower measures of personal well-being including happiness, self-actualization, and satisfaction with life. People who are materialistic show higher rates of greater depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders. In addition, they have more physical problems, overall reduced life functioning, less healthy relationships, and less connectedness to others. Indeed the profile of materialistic individuals has shown them to be less generous, less empathetic, having more conflict with others, more manipulative, less willing to help the community, less cooperative, more competitive, and more likely to score higher on measures of antisocial behavior.

Conversely, we know that when individuals are low in materialism and higher in postmaterialistic values (they stress self-expression, belongingness, sense of community, social equality, and concern for quality of life), they tend to show greater spirituality, greater purpose in life, higher concerns for the next generation, and more sensitivity to corporate actions (e.g. pollution, corporate philanthropy, and disclosure of social information).

So what does this tell us about being organized for efficiency? Is your streamlining of life actually going to make you less happy, sicker, and fraught with poor relationships? The research would tell us it depends on what motivates you. If your motivation to get organized is based on helping you to do things that will bring more meaning in life, if it is based on the motivation to be autonomous, or if it provides you competence feedback, you are less likely to see a negative impact on your life. But if the motivation is driven to achieve external success, to attain material goals, or get the status that society deems so important, you may be organizing yourself toward an unhappy existence.

What’s a motivated person to do? It would seem that some honest reflection is in order if you are concerned with organizing for success. There’s really nothing wrong with being more organized so that you can get your work done well, minimize the waste of time, or have a successful career. But you need to ask yourself why. Are you doing it to earn enough money to put your kids through college or to buy them extravagant toys and clothes that are based in materialistic pride? Are you working because you enjoy what you do, or are you looking to get accolades and status so that you can try to feel good about yourself? Are looking to get promoted so that you can do more good, help others, or improve the world, or do you want it so that you can control others and feel “safe”?

Remember that in the climb for money, status, and power, there is no endpoint. Society has conditioned us to want more and more, and if that’s your goal, by definition, it is a goal you can never reach; it is a goal that can only bring you unhappiness.


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All viewpoints expressed by Jackie Gilbert are her own, and not of her employer.

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