You’re Allowed to Be Happy and Ambitious at the Same Time

I’m writing this post in a lawn chair, sitting in the full sun and listening to the birds. I couldn’t be happier right now. I’m doing work that I love, and I get to be my own boss. I finished a leisurely 10 km run yesterday, a distance that would have had my legs aching two years ago.

In other words, things are going pretty good right now.

But despite being happy with the way things are right now, I want to do more. I used to believe that the purpose of self-improvement was to escape discontentment. If you weren’t happy you read self-help books, build discipline, overcame your fears and worked hard until you reached a point where you were happy.

I was wrong.

As I see it now, ambition isn’t the opposite of living an contented life, it’s part of a contented life. In the moments I’ve stopped being driven by an interesting goal, I’m not happy, I’m bored.

Early Rising and the Meaning of Life

I’ve been in constructive free-time for the last three weeks. But I’ve still been waking up around 5:30-6:00 am to go jogging each morning. Waking up early is a good way to get more stuff done. But it’s also a good way to get more living done.

I enjoy sleeping in, but I can’t stand it as a regular habit. To me, it’s like eating too much candy. The first few pieces taste great, but the rest just give you a stomach ache.

Have Your Cake and Eat it Too

Some people would like you to believe the way to improve is through pain. Struggle, hardship and agonizing discipline. Ambition takes it’s price out of you. If you aren’t willing to pay that price, you need to settle for a less ambitious lifestyle.

But the surprising thing I’ve noticed is that this has never been the case for me. I’ve always achieved the most when I’m happy. Being happy with things cuts out the painful distractions and let’s you focus on your ambitions. When you feel depressed, you don’t have enough energy to go beyond the routine.

Ben Franklin once said, “There are two ways to become rich: increase your means or lower your wants. The best way is to do both at the same time.” Being happy with what you have and working hard to get what you want don’t have to be opposites.

This is a pretty self-indulgent post, so I’ll try to post something more useful tomorrow. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the sunny day.

  • Mark

    Not self-indulgent at all, Scott. This is something that, after many moons of stress and agonized striving, I’ve found to be true in my own life as well, with remarkable results. It’s something that bears repeating, especially because I don’t think enough self-help books place enough emphasis on it.

  • Brian

    A buddhist monk once said:

    “There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way.”

    Being happy all boils down to living in the present moment. In other words, there are always chances to be happy right now. Why wait until later when x, y, and z have happened before I can be happy?

    If we start to put conditions on our happiness, we will always be doing that, meaning we will never be happy.

    I’m happy that you’re happy. haha

  • Tara

    Right on, Scott! So proud that someone so young has “gotten it”! (Okay, that’s coming from a 32 y.o., so I’m not so old myself…but you look like a baby in that picture you’ve posted!)

  • p5max

    You know?
    This is not necessarily a self-indulgent post.

    “I’m writing this post in a lawn chair, sitting in the full sun and listening to the birds. I couldn’t be happier right now. I’m doing work that I love, and I get to be my own boss. I finished a leisurely 10 km run yesterday, a distance that would have had my legs aching two years ago.”

    is very inspiring and reminds me of why i set out for this personal development journey!!

    Also its kinda nice to hear “non-advicing” short stories from you!!

  • Scott Young


    I completely agree. But I think it’s easy to interpret that advice as meaning, “If I can be happy with anything, why bother working really hard.” My point is that the working hard is part of what keeps you focused in the present moment or “the way”.


  • Silence Dogood


    Not self indugent at all just a good post.

    This made me think of happiness in my relationship with my spouse. When I hear married people say, “he/she doesn’t make me happy anymore”, I think they have the wrong perspective on happiness. No one person is going to make you happy. That is for you to discover along the way. For example, I have noticed in retrospect, that I am most happy in my marriage when I am doing things for my spouse to the point of going the second-mile.

    This has carried over to other areas I am working on, as well. I am finding that happiness and contentment are in the second mile not in the areas of have-tos.

    Keep up the great posts.

  • Sara

    I hate to repeat what everyone else has said, but I didn’t think this post was self-indulgent, either. I’m finally realizing that no goals for me equates to boredom. So, happiness and ambition are definitely interlinked in my life. I also don’t feel that pain is a prerequisite for growth or development; it just happens to coincide a great deal of the time.

  • Pingback: Scott H Young » Need Little, Want Lots()

  • Pingback: Scott H Young » Itchy Chair Motivation()

  • Pingback: Itchy Chair Motivation | Charters Towers E-village()

  • Pingback: Itchy Chair Motivation | Toowoomba E-village()

  • Pingback: Itchy Chair Motivation | Hughenden E-village()

  • Nayana

    Great post! I am one of the people who thought that in order to achieve great heights, you invariably end up going through struggle and pain. Only lately, I tried being happy and ambitious at the same time, and boy it works! And it is constructive too. Glad to have realised that being content / happy and being ambitious are two different things that can co-exist, and glad to have understood that they aren’t negatively correlated anymore! Cheers!