Unfortunately, success is Sisyphean (to mix my Greek myths). The goal can’t be satisfied; most people never feel “successful enough.” The high only lasts a day or two, and then it’s on to the next goal. Psychologists call this the hedonic treadmill, in which satisfaction wears off almost immediately and we must run on to the next reward to avoid the feeling of falling behind. This is why so many studies show that successful people are almost invariably jealous of people who are more successful.
They should get off the treadmill. But quitting isn’t easy for addicts. For people hooked on substances, withdrawal can be an agonizing experience, both physically and psychologically. Anxiety and depression are very common after one quits alcoholic drinking, for example. Indeed, the novelist William Styron famously cited the cessation of his lifelong heavy drinking as part of the onset of the clinical depression he chronicled in his book Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness. Some chalk this up to loneliness in the absence of alcohol—remember, it’s a relationship.
Success addicts giving up their habit experience a kind of withdrawal as well. Research finds that depression and anxiety are common among elite athletes after their careers end; Olympic athletes, in particular, suffer from the “post-Olympic blues.”