Achieving of goals vs what happens in between
Do you remember the day we finally arrived? We finally achieved that thing. What was it again? Joining the improv team or making the sportsball squad or winning the trophy in the contest or something.
And from then on we were in a constant steady state of happiness. From the moment we accomplished our goal, nothing else was left to do! It was all smooth sailing. What else was there to worry about? Our goal was secured.
...oh wait, that's actually not what happened? Once we achieved winning the trophy the happiness of acquiring the trophy quickly faded and then suddenly there was a new goal/problem to achieve/solve?
Hrm well, this is a sticky situation isn't it?
I guess we'll have to have a constant stream of goal achievements. Now that we've won the sportsball team, we should probably win state or nationals. Now that we're in the improv team, we should set our sights on winning the improv contest and impressing all of the cool hipster coffee drinkers that come watch.
Sweet, we are now a professional improv sportsball player and have TWO trophies. Surely now life is all good and great right?
Mmm, that's the stuff. GOAL ACHIEVEMENT TM has been injected into our metaphorical bloodstream. What a high! But now that's it's three weeks later the high has worn off and now what?
THREE trophies? Four? Eight million?
This seems like a losing battle. Every time we achieve, we just revert back to our baseline happiness after like a week or two, no matter how amazing the trophy is.
Unless you have an IV drip of constant trophies being injected into your bloodstream, I don't think these trophies are ever going to be continually satisfying. And even then we'd probably build up trophy high resistance and would need twice as many trophies per litre in order to satisfy.
Us humans are pretty bad at contentment and by nature are driven to never be satisfied with anything. This is a survival mechanism, since until relatively recently, being satisfied with the amount of food in your pantry meant you'd probably die soon since refrigerators weren't invented yet so you can't store much.
But now there's so much abundance that the ever-escalating quest for more will only lead to dissatisfaction. After all, making it our goal to be the president of the United States might be worthwhile, but is it really the truest reflection of the desires of our heart? Perhaps best selling Amazon author would be more better, or captain of the New York Oilers, or the CEO of Tesla, or literally Bill Gates, or the Pope or Dalai Lama.
But so, if we can't ever find ultimate fulfillment from achieving goals, what then? It stands to reason that if goals are never ending, in order to be happy we have to stop seeing goals as the mechanism of happiness.
Instead, perhaps the process itself could be made satisfying. Instead of measuring the value of a day by how much is accomplished, we could measure the value of a day by how much effort we put into the work, how close to our values we held.
Perhaps instead of seeing life as a journey to get to the end of, it can be seen as music, and as Alan Watts suggested, "it was a musical thing, and you were supposed to sing or dance as the music was being played."
Do you know what doesn't change? A rock. A statue. A mountain. What do these things have in common? They are all dead.
To be alive is to change. And being able to enjoy the ride makes life a lot more fun and interesting.
Use that drive to achieve your goals as fuel to move you forward, but consider that life is what happens between achieving those goals.
I first sent this article as a letter to my mailing list. New letters go out each week!
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