At a young age, we’re taught to focus on the goal. Keep your eye on the prize, they say.
So when we want to achieve something, we focus our full attention, put in our best effort and keep track with measures along the way.
For the practical items—from simple tasks to longer-term projects—that’s a proven way to get things done. There’s a checklist, a formula to it.
It’s common sense when it comes to goal setting, but not when it comes to happiness.
Straightforward approaches don’t work with abstract concepts dealing with the heart and soul. This leads us to the fourth myth in the myths of happiness series.
Myth 4: Happiness is the goal
It’s ironic how happiness works.
When happiness is made into the goal, it becomes elusive, self-defeating. The more you focus on it, strive for it and will it, the farther away it will escape you.
We know that happiness isn’t effortless; rather it is an intentional choice in the present moment and work for the future. Intentional effort is required, but the goal must not be for happiness but something larger and beyond.
In making happiness the goal, you’re already on the wrong path.
I realized this myth most poignantly during my sabbatical when I set out to create the ideal conditions with the goal of happiness. I quit working 50 hours a week at a job I disliked, I tried new activities I’ve always wanted to try and I traveled to other cities and countries. I enjoyed my fair share of amazing food and drink.
While sipping a cappuccino at a café in Prague and looking out the window at the elegantly worn buildings and cobblestoned streets, the understanding seeped through.
Happiness only results as a byproduct of the mindset, decisions and actions we choose to take.
On the surface, I was living a picture perfect life in Europe: going to the farmer’s market in the morning, leisurely making breakfast, wandering around to beautiful locations and enjoying cheap yet high-quality food at restaurants. Was I happy?
While I was (mostly) having a good time, I realized that these temporal enjoyments were not enough for true happiness: nothing beyond a thrill felt from the taste buds, an intake of breath from seeing a picturesque sight, a brief moment of “Ah, I could get used to this!” that seemed to diminish more and more into my 3 week trip.
Because that’s what happens, you get used to it.
If you seek out things for the goal of happiness, it will be just one thing after another. At the beginning, you’ll feel a similar feeling to happiness—the rush from novelty, indulgence or perceived improvement—but eventually they will blend together and you won’t be able to tell the difference.
This is why happiness cannot be the goal.
Making progress towards bigger goals you have in life, goals that are meaningful and enable you to grow as a person, embracing the present moment as imperfect as it may seem—it is in between these intentional choices that happiness occurs, not a direct result but as a byproduct.
In what ways have you made mistakenly made happiness the goal? More myths of happiness to come in the next few weeks! In case you missed the earlier part of the 7 myths of happiness series, here is Part 1, 2 and 3.
Happiness is the journey, not the destination. — Souza