Why is pursuing goals, purposes and success so often the opposite of happiness?

Why is pursuing goals, purposes and success so often the opposite of happiness?

Happiness is not only difficult to record (it is also said that life is what happens when you take care of making other plans) or measure, but, above all, to forecast.

In fact, various studies suggest that we are essentially unable to determine what will make us happy or unhappy in the future, much less to what extent. Or to put it another way : perhaps it is not so much about pursuing happiness (or an ideal of beauty) as enjoying the one that is presented to us.

The Obsession of Goals

More and more evidence suggests that, in general, we are more and more obsessed with the process of achieving objectives, goals and purposes, and that therefore it is common that achieving the objective carries with it the feeling of anti-climax . To combat this unease, then, we set ourselves another goal, perhaps more ambitious.

Proof of this is that the use of the phrase " goal pursuit" did not appear in books written in English until 1950. As Adam Alter explains in his book Irresistible , until the 19th century there was not even a precise word for define this concept, which is synonymous with perfectionism. Perfectionism, a century ago, appeared in 0.1% of published books. Today it appears in 5% of all books. Adler sums up like this:

Like the curse that doomed Sisyphus to push a rock up a mountain forever, it is hard not to wonder if life’s great goals are not, by nature, a great source of frustration, either because you must face the anticlimax of success or the disappointment of failure. All this is now more relevant than ever because we have solid reasons to believe that we live in an unprecedented era, in which the culture of the objective prevails, starring addictive perfectionism, self-evaluation, long hours working and few enjoying our time.

Pursuing goals and ironing out our flaws is not necessarily bad, the problem is setting these goals as a priority or, worse still, as a balm for future happiness .

What really happens with consecutive pursuit of goals is that much more time is spent on it than on enjoying the success. Even when the goal is achieved, success is brief, as human behavior expert Oliver Burkeman wrote :

When you see life as a succession of goals to achieve, you find yourself in a "near permanent state of failure." You spend most of your time away from what you have defined as the embodiment of achievement or success. And, in the event that you do, you will feel that you have lost what gave you a sense of purpose, so what you will do is set a new goal and start over.

The fuzzy horizon

Setting long-term goals is also doomed to failure in the sense that we are unable to predict how happy or unhappy something will make us. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman , in his book Think Fast, Think Slow , gave 119 students questionnaires that included questions about how happy they thought they were quadriplegics.

The results showed that we have a wrong preconception about how people feel under certain circumstances if we do not know them first-hand: those who knew paraplegics (friends and family) considered them happier than those who did not know them.

Those who best described the reality of such patients were, of course, those who knew them best. In other words, tetraplegics were happier than previously believed .

Given our inability to be creditworthy futurologists, the most appropriate seems to focus on the present. Focusing on what we do on a daily basis is how the psychologist Daniel Goleman proposes it in his book Focus :

Top achievers – whether in education, business, sports, or the arts – intuitively use forms of focus and mindfulness. The point is not in practicing concentration for many hours, but in the way we pay attention to what we do and how we absorb feedback to self-correct.

In short, being aware of our present, that is, having our mind on what one is doing, and opening our eyes to contemplate the beauty that surrounds us with curiosity and interest, instead of spending all the time daydreaming about an idealized and unattainable beauty.