This was a big year for me professionally. I got a big grant. My first two Ph.D. students graduated. I finished writing a book. And I got tenure. I achieved quite a few major goals that I had been working toward for a long time.
I thought I would be happier about it.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I did feel some joy, satisfaction, and relief from those accomplishments. But it didn’t last too long. And it was accompanied by a sense of boredom, frustration, and existential angst. These were huge things for me—I thought I would feel happier, and I thought the happiness would last longer.
But according to science, this shouldn’t be too much of a surprise. In his book, The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt argues that the happiness we gain from achievements or accomplishments is short-lived. Instead, a greater sense of happiness occurs in the midst of a meaningful goal pursuit.
It’s about the journey, not the destination.
This rings true with my experience. I enjoyed the process of pursuing my goals. I enjoyed the challenge of writing the grant and the book. I wasn’t sure if I could do it, and it was energizing to put my all into it and see what happened. The tenure process was stressful, but it was also exciting. I was working toward a goal, and I directed all my energy into the task at hand.
When you reach your goal or achieve your accomplishment, it’s a good idea to press pause and celebrate. But don’t be surprised if the euphoria wears off quickly. We weren’t made to reach a certain place and then just sit around. Instead, we were designed to continue working toward meaningful goals. Our joy and happiness depends on our consistent engagement in those tasks.
There’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Instead, life is more like the video game Super Mario Bros. You pick up the gold coins one at a time, along the way, as you work toward your goals.
Discussion: Have you ever reached a goal, only to be disappointed because the happiness you experienced from reaching your goal didn’t last? What do you think about the idea of creating happiness through meaningful goal pursuits?