To Be Happy, “We Need to Have Goals”

(p. B8) A little over a year ago, I drove home from the airport with the windows down and the radio on full blast after filming the last scenes for the Netflix docu-series “The Innocent Man.” I was so proud of the work I’d done investigating two wrongful murder convictions in a small city in Oklahoma in the 1980s. This was work that mattered, and I was thrilled to be a part of it.

A few days later, I sat in my truck and cried. An empty work schedule yawned before me, and I was sure that my most meaningful achievement was in my rearview mirror.

This wave of hopelessness has a name: I was experiencing arrival fallacy.

“Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness,” said Tal Ben-Shahar, the Harvard-trained positive psychology expert who is credited with coining the term.

. . .

To be clear, acknowledging the power of arrival fallacy does not mean we should settle for a life of mediocrity.

“We need to have goals,” Dr. Ben-Shahar said. “We need to think about the future.” And, he noted, we are also a “future-oriented” species. In fact, studies have shown that the mortality rate rises by 2 percent among men who retire right when they become eligible to collect Social Security, and that retiring early may lead to early death, even among those who are healthy when they do so. Purpose and meaning can generate satisfaction, which is part of the happiness equation, Dr. Gruman said.

So wait. Reaching a goal can make us unhappy, but setting goals makes us happy? It sounds like a conundrum, but it’s not if you plan correctly, Dr. Ben-Shahar said. His advice is to lay out multiple concurrent goals, both in and out of your work life.

For the full commentary, see:

A.C. Shilton. “Success Doesn’t Always Bring Happiness.” The New York Times (Monday, June 3, 2019): B8.

(Note: ellipsis added.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date May 28, 2019, and has the title “You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What?”)

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