Are Your Goals Making You Unhappy?
Article also featured on Collective Evolution
“Happiness is like a butterfly. The more you chase it, the more it eludes you. But if you turn your attention to other things, it comes and sits softly on your shoulder.” – Henry David Thoreau
Having worked in the business world for many years and after reading hundreds of self-help books and attending numerous conferences and seminars on motivation and personal development, I noticed one very dominant theme that was espoused by many authors, managers and prominent business leaders. That is, goal setting is crucial to be successful in whatever endeavour you choose. After having thought about it for some time I came to the conclusion that goals may well be the very crux of why so many people are unhappy. I remember writing down numerous goals in my diary and looking and reciting these every day, as this is one of the formulas many of the self-help books claim as the foundation for success! After doing this and striving for many years I found although I may have achieved some of my goals I wasn’t satisfied. I had to set new goals and continue striving for more.
The happiness survey conducted by the London School of Economics uncovered some interesting findings about happiness on a global scale. Mr. Richard Layard, Co-Director of the Centre for Economic Performance at the London School of Economics carried out some research titled ‘Happiness: Lessons from a New Science.’ What he learnt was published in 2005 by the Penguin Press. Here are a few extracts from the book:
“Bangladesh is the happiest nation in the world. The United States, on the other hand, is a sad story: it ranks only 46th in the World Happiness Survey. That’s way behind India, the fifth happiest place in the world, and others including Ghana and Latvia, Croatia and Estonia.”
It seems many of the more industrialised countries such as Canada, Japan, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom rank below many of their poorer counterparts. Why? Is it because we have all been conditioned to strive and want more and more? Are we trapped in a never ending cycle of goals and the attainment of material possessions?
To better understand what I mean we need to understand what goals are? The dictionary defines a goal or objective as: a projected state of affairs that a person or a system plans or intends to achieve. Many people endeavour to reach goals within a specified time by setting deadlines. There are a few key words that are used in defining the word goal; these include projected, desired, end point, reach and deadline. There is nothing wrong with having goals and some direction, the problem lies in the fact that many of us attach feelings of happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment to achieving these goals. We start living in the future, spending our waking moments directed towards the attainment of goals. Being consumed with goals eats into our enjoyment of the present and daily life. We may be successful in reaching our desired goals, but often lose out on enjoying the journey. Could our pursuit of happiness actually inhibit us from attaining happiness?
Goals Bring Short Term Satisfaction
Take some time to think about this, think back to when you set a goal or target to achieve. What happened when you reached this target? How long did that burst or excitement and happiness last? Were you really satisfied? So what happens after we have achieved our goals? When we achieve our desired goals we have a short burst of happiness, satisfaction and fulfilment, after these feeling dissipate, usually in a matter of hours, days or weeks, we find ourselves back to the beginning and are left wanting again. If we do not have the sufficient awareness to be able to control our internal thoughts and remain in a state of sustained happiness, we find ourselves searching for another goal to give meaning to our lives. So what do we do? We do the last thing that we associated with giving us short term pleasure. The mind starts thinking. That goal gave me some satisfaction and that felt good for a little while. Maybe that goal was too easy. I need to set a bigger more challenging goal! That will make me happier! So off we go setting new goals only hours after achieving our previous goal. We are trapped in this vicious circle of relentless goal setting in an attempt to find long-lasting joy, fulfilment and happiness. Our belief that the achievement of a certain event, activity or acquiring something will make us happy is our illusion.
This type of thinking is causative in nature, that is, we believe we need something to give us happiness. Most of our happiness is cause and effect generated. I do this and it makes me happy, I achieve this, and it makes me happy and so on and so forth. We know that once we attain anything, be it a relationship, an object, money, power or status, at some point in time it will be gone. This is why we must foster an internal process of happiness from within. Maybe we should consider realigning our goals so they relate to more meaningful outcomes such as greater connection with others, helping restore community, cultivating happiness from within, helping those less fortunate than ourselves and reconnecting with nature.
Excerpts from Rethink…Your world, Your future.