What does “success in life” really look like? It means that you are happy more than you are not; that you love and are loved; that you achieve what you set out to do; and you have very few disappointments. In fact, if you focus on the two main aspects of life that make everything else work, you may end up with no disappointments at all.
The two key aspects are kindness and common sense.
Civilization literally breaks down when there is a lack of kindness. Life as we know it depends almost 100% on people being kind to each other.
What is kindness, really?
It is the moment when one person decides to do something that will help another.
It could be as simple as resisting to say something rude or mean; it could be as small and seemingly insignificant as letting someone go in front of you when traffic is merging; it could be the more obvious and sacrificial decision to help a loved one through a very long illness. During each day, we have dozens of opportunities to be kind or not; making those decisions in favor of kindness always results in a better outcome for all concerned.
When we are not kind, bad things happen.
What makes people decide to be unkind? It is usually because they feel like they haven’t gotten what they think they deserve. “He shouldn’t treat me that way.” “She isn’t even listening to me.” “I deserve better than this.” “I’ve worked my butt off and no one even cares.” “I’m better than that person; I deserve to get more than them.”
It’s about keeping score, watching for any indication that we aren’t special or loved, steaming internally because of it, and taking it out on others in obvious or not-so-obvious ways.
Now, it could be that you really do have to make your way out of a bad situation. The only way to know if you are truly in a bad situation is if you are consciously and consistently kind (without a chip on your shoulder) and the other person doesn’t change their negative behavior.
I have an ironclad rule in life and work: I avoid jerks. These are the people who decide, sometime very early in their lives, to handle tough situations by being a jerk. They grow up guided by that belief. They end up being unhappy more than they are happy; grudgingly loved and loving; and may achieve what they set out to do, but the result is less than satisfying. Their lives are filled with disappointments. People keep leaving them and, unless they realize that their own jerkiness is the problem, they will never understand why. They end up bitter and alone.
Kindness can be its own reward; it feels good to be kind. But it pays off in many other ways.
If you are in business, and you are consciously and consistently kind to your customers, they will literally go out of their way to buy from you. That’s where real success in business comes from.
If you are in a relationship with someone who is not a jerk, and you are kind to your partner, they will find ways to show their appreciation, and they will want to stay in the relationship.
If you are a parent, and you are kind to your children, you will be the best example they can have of what love is, and they will pass that on to everyone they encounter in their own lives.
Every single act of kindness contributes to a world where everyone gets along and life moves along smoothly. If you want to change the world, it’s the first and best place to start.
Common sense combats chaos
What is common sense? Where does it come from? What is the difference between a person who consistently exercises it, and one who doesn’t?
Let’s look at this by looking at two people. Colleen, who has common sense, and Chelsea, who doesn’t.
Chelsea’s main characteristic is her nervousness. She is anxious and constantly chattering. She’s easily persuaded to move in one direction or another just because someone suggested it. One idea is as good as any other, as far as she is concerned. She has very little confidence in her own mind or decisions. She doesn’t listen well. She is the opposite of calm. She is very much affected by things she sees and reads, and worries that everything is going to go wrong. She does not know how to comfort others and can’t be comforted herself. Her life is a chaotic mess.
Colleen, on the other hand, is calm, in all circumstances. She is observant and talks only when she has something helpful or meaningful to say. She listens to suggestions, but then thinks before taking action, weighing her options carefully. She has principles she’s developed over the years, including not being swayed by flattery or impractical advice. She is not lacking in emotion, but she is careful not to let emotions drive her behavior. She is confident in her own decisions. She sees all that is going on in the world, and is determined to have a positive effect on it, but she also doesn’t let it all get to her. She knows how to comfort and accepts comfort with grace. Her life is rewarding and satisfying.
We could spend a lot of time trying to figure out why Chelsea is the way she is and why Colleen is the way she is. But root causes are never as important as the decisions that Chelsea and Colleen have made in their lives. We all have bad things happen to us. Yes, some more than others, but even the most idyllic lives have their tragedies.
It’s who we are after those bad things happen that sets the course for success in life. We decide, all day every day, who we are going to be. Chelsea has not yet realized that her chaos comes from her own behavior, not her circumstances. Colleen has vowed to be a calm and comforting person, regardless of the circumstances.
Screen life versus real life
Kindness and common sense are still all around us, in real life, but it’s not very popular on our screens. In popular productions, kindness and common sense are pretty boring; the tension that keeps us watching a movie or show comes from unkindness or injustice and people being non-sensible.
Those negatives may be what good stories are made of, but it doesn’t make for a satisfying life.
I need to mention one more thing. Another element of life that makes it worth living is to be willing to be adventuresome—to get out of your comfort zone and take on projects that challenge you and expose you to new, memorable experiences. Frankly, running your own business is like that; making a go of it, in spite of all that is usually against you, is a wonderful adventure.
And it goes without saying that you won’t be successful at all if you aren’t willing to work hard.
But without kindness or common sense, adventures can become disasters, which is definitely not what we all want.
What we do want is to be satisfied with our lives. Kindness and common sense are the best tickets you can use to get there.