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There Are 3 Kinds of Success — Only One Will Bring True Happiness

If you ever feel small and unworthy, notice where your attention is. Do you compare yourself to some external measure of success? While there’s nothing wrong in doing so, realize it’s not everything. Success is so much more.


Jonas Ressem

4 months ago | 3 min read


Focus on internal, development-based success

One of my recent articles got rejected by a major publication. I tried not to let it bother me, and usually I don’t get too upset when these things happen, but this time it struck something within me. It made me feel small and unworthy. Like I should be further along by now.

And maybe I should. But the fact is, I published my first article three years ago and I’ve only got about 500 followers. Compare that to other, more recent writers, and it’s not that impressive.

But here the problem lies. In comparison. And what I had to remind myself of after the rejection, after half a day of feeling like crap, is that success doesn’t only lie in the external — which comparison festers in. It resides within the internal as well. Maybe even more so.

Two Realms of Success

In my opinion, there are two realms of success. There’s the classically thought of, socially constructed, external success. And there’s the redefined, personal, internal success.

Growing up, most of us notice this external kind. And it’s that: out in the world, there seem to be ways of living that are more successful than others. At least, that’s how we perceive it through the reinforcement of social values (such as money, status, and power).

Then there’s the second view, the internal kind. But it’s not a view that everyone comes to visit. And it’s this: success is what we define it for ourselves.

A Further Divide

While the external realm is easy enough to understand, there’s a further divide in the internal realm: There’s achievement-based success and development-based success.

Now we have three kinds of success in total. Let’s examine them:

  • An external success means making it in some socially valued venture. Here, reaching success depends on variables outside yourself, thus making it an uncontrollable kind of success. An example is writing a book that becomes a best-seller.
  • An internal, achievement-based success means achieving something you value yourself. Here, the pathway to success isn’t obstructed by anything else than you, thus making it a controllable kind of success. An example is writing a book (and not focusing on how it’s received).
  • An internal, development-based success means developing yourself in a way that’s valued. Here, success is still controllable, but it’s not about achievement anymore; it’s about development. An example is the continuous development of self-awareness.

The Secret to Happy Success

While all three will make you, well, successful, there are differences in how they will make you feel. And it’s your focus that will determine your level of happiness.

  • If you focus on external success, you will be disappointed whenever you’re not in a socially valued position. And since there are uncontrollable aspects to that, you cannot rely on much stability, causing unstable feelings of happiness.
  • If you focus on internal, achievement-based success, you might feel successful once you’ve achieved something. However, you will likely feel empty once the rush of achievement has settled. It’s a fleeting kind of happiness.
  • If you focus on internal, development-based success, you will be successful as long as you continue to develop yourself. And that’s something that can be worked on forever. This produces a different kind of happiness: an eudaimonic kind; a long-term sense of fulfillment, engagement, and purpose. True happiness.

While internal, development-based success emerges as the winner, in terms of happiness, it doesn’t mean you should never work on the other kinds of success.

The Upside of Working on Multiple Kinds of Success

Working to have external success isn’t a bad thing. Neither is working towards achievement. Because as it turns out, working at them can actually boost your development-based success. And in turn, happiness.

Everything’s connected. For example, in a quest to become a successful writer, I’ve achieved writing a book, and also developed myself as a person. I had to because doing so demanded it. I had to work on my discipline, my energy-management, etc.

The connections have worked the other way as well. And that’s actually how it started for me. I focused on personal development, and writing was a means to accomplish that.

And the more I developed myself, the more I wrote, and the better I found my writing to be. And with better writing, better chances of becoming an externally successful author.

Going back to my article being rejected, however, I realized external success wasn’t everything. Because if I look at my internal development, I realize I’ve had a fair bit of success.

Over the past three years, I’ve gone from being cynical, narrow-minded, and always undermining myself, to being grateful, curious, and having greater self-compassion. I’m happier.


If you ever feel small and unworthy, notice where your attention is. Do you compare yourself to some external measure of success? While there’s nothing wrong in doing so, realize it’s not everything. Success is so much more. There’s:

  • External success.
  • Internal, achievement-based success.
  • Internal, development-based success.

You can work on all three, and probably should to some degree. However, you must realize it’s the internal, development-based success that will make you happy. This is where your main focus should be. On developing yourself; on becoming a better person.


Created by

Jonas Ressem



From Norway. Building Exploring life through psychology, philosophy and entrepreneurship. Come explore with me:







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