If you want to know one of the surest ways to hinder your own happiness, here it is: never take risks. Now by risks I don’t mean gambling your life savings away in Las Vegas or meeting that person you met online without investigating his/her background first. What I mean is avoiding potential failure.
Now it may seem counter-intuitive that happiness and the possibility of failing could have a positive relationship but they do. Let’s compare two hypothetical people so you can see this idea illustrated
Both Person A and Person B are graduate students with the same future goal of becoming full professors at research universities. Person A is a risk taker. Her motto in life is “the worst that can happen is they can say no.” As a result, she submits every paper she writes during her courses to conferences and publications. She gets a few rejections; she gets a few accepted. Person B, on the other hand, dreads the idea of rejection so she doesn’t submit her papers anywhere. For her, it is better to imagine that it might have gotten accepted than to know for sure that it wasn’t. In the end, Person A’s record of conferences and publications helps her land a good job at a prestigious university. Person B is too afraid to apply to many of the jobs so she ends up in working at a community college without much opportunity for professional growth and development.
As you can see from this scenario, the person who takes risks is going to end up obtaining goals whereas the person who is afraid of failing never can. To achieve a goal, you have to take a risk that it might not happen or that it might not be as wonderful as you thought. In either case, you don’t dwell on the failure or internalize the rejection. Instead, you set a new goal. That’s the way you build your path to happinesss.
When we let fear prevent us from taking risks that could potentially help us get closer to happiness, we are robbing ourselves. We are denying ourselves of the opportunity not just to succeed and be happy but to fail and be happy. Sometimes our greatest failures in life can lead to our greatest opportunities for happiness. Think of all the people who are happily remarried after divorcing a different spouse. Without the failed marriage, they may not have had the opportunity for a happy second marriage. Think of business professionals who have failed in entrepreneurial ventures only to find future success thanks to everything they learned from those failures.
Happiness is not only about what we do well; it is also about learning from what we mess up. Those important lessons pave the way for our future successes. But if we are too scared to take those first risks and possibly learn those lessons, we may be depriving of ourselves of what we seek the most.