“Success” Doesn’t Guarantee Happiness…Your State of Mind Does

Success (however you define it) isn’t going to guarantee happiness.

© Icefields | Dreamstime.com - Happiness Formula Photo
© Icefields | Dreamstime.com – Happiness Formula Photo

I understand how lack of sales, lack of positive reviews, not winning an award, hateful email, and other things we deal with as writers can bring us down.  This is normal.  We’re in a roller coaster business.

But the opposite isn’t going to “finally make you happy”… at least not longterm.  You might get a boost from it.  There is a certain high in reaching a goal, especially if you did even better than the goal you set.  But the high doesn’t last.  It peaks and then fizzles.  The high, just like the lows, are like a roller coaster.  Often right after going through a couple days of a “wow, I did it!” high, I find I spend a day or two feeling down in the dumps–and there was nothing bad that happened to make me feel bummed out.  I think this is the body’s way of leveling out our moods.

My point is that there is no external thing in our lives as writers that will truly satisfy us in the long run.  No matter how many books you sell, you can always sell more.  If you made it as a NYT or USA bestselling author with one book, you want to make it there with another one.  If you win one award, you want another one.  If you get one great review, you want another one.  It’s normal.  Once we get a taste of something, we want more.

If we don’t get it, we’re disappointed.   Why?  Because these things don’t sustain us.

You could have everything you’ve ever dreamed of as a writer, but that doesn’t mean you will be happy.  Happiness is something that comes from within.  It’s a state of mind.  The good news is, this is one area you have control over.  You decide how to respond to things that happen around you.  The older I get (I’ll be 40 in October), the more I’m convinced that the way you think has a huge impact on how you feel.

A quick disclaimer before I continue: you will not be happy every single day for the rest of your life.  There will be days that suck.  But overall, there could be an underlying sense of joy in your life if you start focusing on the positives.

Okay, now to continue…

You reap what you sow.

Focus on what you can control.

If you focus on things you can do (realistic goals such as improving your writing or getting a little more writing in during the week), you are more likely to find contentment than if you’re running all over Facebook and Twitter to promote the heck out of your book with the hope you’ll hit a certain number of sales.  Why?  Because you can’t control if someone buys or reads your book.  That is out of your control.  And if you’re looking for other people to do something to make you happy, it’s not going to happen.  It might give you a boost (and you should enjoy the boosts when they come), but it won’t sustain you.

Another principle of reaping what you sow…

The way you treat others ends up coming back to you somehow.

I don’t fully understand why this works out the way it does, but time and time again, I’ve seen people get what they’ve given.  Generous people seem to get more than those that are stingy.  People who reach out and help others often end up being liked by a large group of people.  I think it’s because positive attracts positive and negative attracts negative.

In regards to writing, I would say treat your fellow authors and your readers with respect.  That doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat.  There are times when you have to say no.  You can’t do it all.  But you can be positive when you engage with others.  Save the “I’m bummed out” for your close friends and family who go through life’s ups and downs with you.  Publicly, be happy.  When you are happy in public, it has a tendency to lift your spirits.


If you can get to the place where you’re content with your life, I think it’ll go a long way in being a better writer.  You’ll have more creative energy and enthusiasm for your work.  You’ll be more passionate about it.  You’ll naturally do better without consciously trying to.

And if you do hit an accomplishment you have no control over, like selling X number of copies in a month, you will be grateful for it, but you won’t base your self-worth as an author on it.  You’ll be humble about your accomplishments.  When good and bad times happens, you’ll bounce back a lot quicker, and you’ll level off easier to an overall sense of joy.


  1. G M Barlean says:

    Truths all the way around. Well said. I couldn’t agree more.

  2. Beth Caplin says:

    I definitely needed this. I keep thinking of reaching a bestseller list as the pinnacle of all my hard work, but even that will prove not to be enough if that ever happens. It could potentially set the bar for disappointment that much higher with the next book if it’s not as successful.

    1. I understand what you mean. Out of the forty romances I’ve published, only a few hit the lists. I never made USA Today or NYT. Mine was pretty small in comparison to some authors, but for a while, I had to fight with the frustration of not being on a bigger list. It was a process to work through. It’s hard not to get discouraged. Focusing on what I loved to write and learning to be grateful for the whole process overall because at least we can publish our books without the help of a publisher.

      1. Beth Caplin says:

        40 books and a few lists? You seem like a success in my book (lame pun unintended). I’ve decided what I love most about writing is hearing from a few readers who aren’t my mom, or affiliated with me in real life, telling me that they relate to one of my characters and that the book helped them through a critical period in their lives. My subjects run pretty heavy, from rape culture to spiritual abuse to broken relationships, and I worry I’m making myself ‘unmarketable’ because of that. But every once in a while I receive a message from a reader, and it no longer matters to me what my sales ranking is or how much money I’ve made. Self-publishing has been a real blessing.

        1. I was lucky since I started out publishing ebooks back in 2009 when no one believed it was possible to sell more than 200 self-published books in a lifetime. So my expectations were low. But once I saw it was possible, I kept wanting more. I was never satisfied, and I never felt like it was enough because there was always someone who did better. I mean, how do you compare to Amanda Hocking and other high profile authors? It took a year, but I finally learned how to be happy with where I was at, and I’m finally at peace. All that stress sapped a lot of joy and passion for writing right out of me.

          I think you’ve hit the nail on the head with one excellent definition of success. You have impacted someone’s life for the better. Because of your book, someone is better off than they were before. That’s really awesome. 😀 I find that very inspiring.

  3. It’s Karma. What goes around really does come around.

    1. I agree. And it’s funny how it always works out that way, no matter what the situation is.

  4. Great post, Ruth. Riches do not bring you happiness. Case in point: Robin Williams. God bless.

    1. I was thinking of him when I wrote the post. Money, bestsellers lists, and fame are all temporary. We can only do so much on our part. Why books sell or don’t is a mystery. I mean, we can do some things to help, but ultimately, it’s not something we can control. Relying on outside resources to make us happy doesn’t work. It’s really up to the choices we make that get us to where we want to be.

  5. Ruth, this is awesome. I love how you brought up what we can control. That’s the kick in the rear I needed to get back to my WIP. 🙂

    1. Thank you! I used to stress over things I couldn’t control, and it made it hard to enjoy writing. When I started focusing on what I could do, I got my passion back. I hope you have a lot of fun with your WIP. 🙂

  6. Words to live by. But, it would be nice to be paid for one’s work. Not everyone can afford the luxury of simply sitting back and resting on one’s laurels. Writing used to be a paid profession. Some people achieve happiness by seeing some kind of reward, even if it is monetary, and even if they don’t get rich. It is a matter of perspective. There are, however, many who think that the fruit of one’s work must be given away freely. That is a form of slavery.

    1. I’m not saying writers shouldn’t be paid for their work. Unfortunately, we can’t control whether or not someone buys our books or how many people buy them. I used to stress over things like that, and I lost a lot of passion for my work. I have a husband who brings in income. I make a living at writing (for now), but just because I’m doing that today, it doesn’t mean it’ll keep going that way. Sales fluctuate up and down and the government takes out a good portion of that (between federal and state, I pay almost 47% of my income in taxes). I’m not as financially well off as I’d like to be. I think it’s a misconception that authors who make a living at their work have it made. We might make money, but we have to pay that lovely self-employment tax that we wouldn’t pay if we worked for someone else. It took me two years to catch up on my taxes and that was after I sold my beloved truck. It’s really not as “exciting” as it looks.

  7. gippyhenry7 says:

    Great post! Much food for thought. I am happy with my life (and older than you). You are right, as one gets older, we learn to enjoy what we have and take it one day at a time. At the moment, I have to admit I’m overwhelmed at the publishing process. Offers come in from everywhere now that I’ve finished my book, but I’m still undecided which way to go. I’m doing college courses, writing books, and might be starting a historic autobiography for someone. My first suspense novel sits here waiting.

    1. Amen. I’ve learned to spend more time with the kids and my husband, esp. the kids who are going to be teenagers in a couple years and will be “too cool” to be seen with Mom. I also need to keep nurturing my marriage because I want to be happily married when the kids are out of the house. (It’s hard to think they won’t always be around, but I know it’s important they get out and find their own way in the world.) 😀

      Anyway, you mentioned being overwhelmed at the publishing process. What are you thinking of doing? Self-publishing or looking for a publisher? Maybe I can write some posts that could help you and others who are going through the same struggle you are. I’d like to do what I can to help. I have mostly self-publishing, but I do have a couple books with a small publisher, so I have experience in both areas. The only thing I haven’t done is get an agent, so I can’t help there. But I’ll do what I can.

      I think it’s awesome you’re doing so much and keeping active, and it’s wonderful you’re helping someone. But I agree. Let’s get your book out there. 🙂

  8. M T McGuire says:

    This is excellent, excellent advice. Thank you.

    1. Thanks! I appreciate it.

  9. ronfritsch says:

    Ruth, I agree with every word in this post. Each day in this indie publishing world brings a bombardment of warnings: If our books don’t sit on top of the bestseller lists and make us fabulously wealthy, we are failures. Where does this stuff come from? From those who are selling just what we need to become a great, yes, “success.”

    1. I hate those warnings. I don’t know why there has to be a standard we’re all supposed to follow. It’s as ridiculous as saying all writers must write the same genre with the same plot in the same voice. If we all reached the number of sales it would take to reach their definition of success, it wouldn’t be enough. The people warning us that we need to be successful would raise the bar even higher. I don’t see how there is any joy with writing unless we can free ourselves from the need to measure up to others’ standards of success.

  10. Karma really does come back in the end.

    1. It sure does. I’m amazed at how much it plays out in all areas of life.

  11. amberskyef says:

    Reblogged this on Amber Skye Forbes and commented:
    Something every writer should read.

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