Taylor Swift Says Living a Happy, Successful, and Meaningful Life Comes Down to 5 Simple Things

Taylor Swift.

Here’s her advice on balancing success and happiness, the importance of kindness, the power of solitude, setting goals, and giving advice.

Taylor Swift is worth somewhere between $700 and $800 million; in terms of entrepreneurial success, that’s rare air.

But then there’s this: as ESPN’s Wright Thompson once told me, Swift might be the most incredible person in American life.

As Thompson said:

She experienced global, nuclear success at a young age. And she’s continued to be incredibly successful.

Yet she never had that “teen star” meltdown. Her success is amazing … but even more incredible is that she’s mature, well-rounded, and happy. That accomplishment is truly staggering.

Swift’s perspectives underpinning that level of success and happiness? Here are five of my favorites.

Taylor Swift on Happiness

Success in business — and in life — means different things to different people. “Success” should mean different things to different people. Whether or not you feel successful depends on how you define success, and on the tradeoffs you are willing to not just accept but embrace as you pursue your definition of success.

Even so, the best way to define success is to ask yourself a simple question: “How happy am I?” How successful you are — more important, how successful you feel — is based solely on the answer to that question.

As Swift says:

I have this really high priority on happiness, and finding something to be happy about.

My ultimate goal is to end up being happy, most of the time.

Sound impossible? Think about it this way. Compartmentalize all you want, but no single aspect of your life can truly be separated from the others. Business success, family and friends, personal pursuits — since each is a permanent part of the whole, putting more focus on one area automatically reduces the focus on another area.

Want to make more money? You can, but something else has to give.

Want more time with family? Want to help others? Want to pursue a hobby? You can, but in each case, something else has to give.

What motivates you? What do you want to achieve for yourself and your family? What do you value most, spiritually, emotionally, and materially? That’s what will make you happy — and if you aren’t doing it, you won’t be happy.

Defining what “success” means to you is important, but taking a clear-eyed look at the impact of your definition matters even more. As in most things, your intention is important, but the results provide the real answer.

Ask yourself if you’re happy. If you are, you’re successful. The happier you are, the more successful you are.

And if you aren’t happy? It’s time to make some changes.

Taylor Swift on Kindness

Jeff Bezos says while cleverness is a gift, kindness is a choice. Mark Cuban says one of the most underrated skills in business is being nice.

As for Swift?

No matter what happens in life, be good to people. Being good to people is a wonderful legacy to leave behind.

You can choose to include rather than exclude. You can choose to build people up rather than tear them down. You can give before you receive, knowing you may never receive. You can shift the spotlight to other people. You can listen more than you talk.

You can choose to be nice — not because you’re expected to, but simply because you can.

Start being nicer, and you’ll be a lot more likely to get what you want, especially over the long term. And a lot more likely to build better professional and personal relationships.

Taylor Swift on the Power of Solitude

Research shows people who socialize more tend to be happier. Makes sense: relationships, friendships, connections, spending time with people we enjoy… those things tend to make us happier.

But that’s not completely true if you’re highly intelligent; the same study found that the more people in the study who were higly intelligent socialized, the less happy they became.

As Swift says:

I am alone a lot, which is good. I need that time to just be alone after a long day, to just decompress.

Why? One theory is aspirational: the smarter you are, possibly the more focused you will be on longer-term goals — which means spending too much time socializing can be distracting instead of helpful. (In short, if you’re always hanging out with people, you aren’t getting stuff done.)

That’s just one study, though, and may only be directionally accurate. Plus, the relationship between intelligence and the desire for “alone time” doesn’t necessarily work in reverse. I’m a prime example: I like time alone, but I’m not particularly bright.

But in your case, if you like to spend time alone working on a project, learning something new, developing your business plan, or grinding away on the things you need to do achieve your goals… don’t assume you’re a loner.

And definitely don’t assume you’re antisocial. There could be a much better answer.

You might just be smarter than the rest of us.

Taylor Swift on Giving Advice

Jeff Bezos’s boss at a hedge fund tried to discourage him from resigning to start Amazon, saying his idea was “probably a better idea for someone who doesn’t have a good job.” Roy Disney, Walt Disney’s brother and business partner, tried to talk him out of making Snow White. Warren Buffett’s father told him it was a bad time to enter the securities industry.

Granted, I’m cherry-picking examples. But still. As Swift says:

I never give advice unless someone asks me for it.

One thing I’ve learned, and possibly the only advice I have to give, is to not be that person giving out unsolicited advice based on your own personal experience.

Even when asked for advice, who are we to tell anyone what to do? We’re us. We’re not them.

What we can do, though, is help the people who ask for advice work through the process of making the right decision for them.

The next time you’re tempted to offer unsolicited advice, resist the temptation. If you’re asked for advice, don’t tell that person what to do. And definitely don’t say what you would do.

Instead, try to help that person find the right questions to ask themselves.

Because no matter how smart or experience we might like to think we are… their answers are the only answers that matter.

Taylor Swift on Goals

While nearly everyone has at least one major goal they want to achieve, statistics show very few people actually achieve that goal.

In part, that’s because most of our limits are self-imposed. We can always do more than we think. Navy SEALs call it the 40 percent rule: when you think you’re done, when your mind says you’re exhausted, fried, and totally tapped out, you still have 60 percent left in your tank.

Yet your emotions — in this case, your emotional response to the fatigue, effort, or mental challenges you normally don’t face — get the best of you. Change is hard. Adding something new to an already packed schedule is hard. Those first few days of trying to create a minimum viable product, or cold-calling in search of an enabling customer, or training for a marathon, or embarking on any difficult long-term journey towards a major goal?

They’re hard.

Especially if you look too far ahead.

Swift’s approach?

As soon as I accomplish one goal, I replace it with another one.

I try not to get too far ahead of myself. I just say to myself, ‘All right, I’d like to headline a tour,’ and then when I get there, I’ll see what my next goal is.

But what if you struggle to get started with your first goal? Try embracing the Two-Week Rule. Pick a goal. Pick something you feel you want to achieve. Create a daily process or routine you will follow.

Then commit to following that routine for two weeks. For each of the next 14 days, keep your head down and focus solely on what you need to do that day. Not next week. Not next month. Not next year.

Just that day.

At the end of two weeks, you’ll know whether you want to keep going. You’ll know whether the goal you chose means something to you, or was just a whim. (Either outcome is fine; “wasting” two weeks only to find out you don’t want to run a marathon is better than spending the next 20 years feeling like a failure because you still think you want to… but haven’t.)

If you decide to keep going, the two weeks you put in will make it much more likely you’ll stay the course over the long term. Partly because of the improvement you’ve made — improving is always fun, and we all like to do things we’re good at — and because your emotions will start to work for you, not against you.

The pride you’ll feel in having stayed the course will help fuel future effort. The fulfillment you’ll gain from doing something most people can’t will do wonders for your confidence. The knowledge that you can achieve more than you ever dreamed possible will inspire you to reach even farther.

Pick one goal, and commit to two weeks. If you can’t do something for two weeks, the goal didn’t mean enough to you.

But if you can do it for two weeks, then the odds are good you can, with time and effort, achieve what you really want to achieve.

And then you can decide what your next goal should be.

More in this series on success, happiness, and meaning:

5 simple things from Steve Jobs
4 simple things from Warren Buffett
3 simple things from Bill Gates
5 simple things from Mark Cuban
4 simple things from Elon Musk
3 simple things from Ray Dalio

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