I find that people are often obsessed with specific goals. Further to that, they attach an intangible happiness to that goal.
The “I will be happy…when” complex is alive and well in most of us.
•“I’ll be happy when I achieve my goals.”
•“I’ll be happy if I get more money.”
•“I’ll be happy when I have a girlfriend.”
The way that most of us look at “happiness” is that there is an obstacle to us achieving this “reality”. The problem with this way of thinking is that happiness is not a reality, it is a way of interpreting reality. You cannot “find” happiness by reaching specific goals or solving problems. Feeling that we will be happy once we achieve a specific goal is a vain pursuit of an ideal.
There is a Buddhist quote that states, “There is no way to happiness, Happiness is the way”
Goals, challenges and problems create the “means” for growth and happiness but achieving those goals does not bring “happiness”. Once a goal is reached or a problem solved, we switch our concentration to a new one.
I would hypothesize that some people that by most people’s perception that “have it all” create problems deliberately. I know one man that has “everything” most people could imagine wanting; He is rich, he has a huge house, 5 cars and a trophy wife. By my standards he should be more than happy, yet he is having an affair. One day we were talking about “life” and he stated he was having an affair because he life was boring, the excitement of doing something that he shouldn’t do brought him “happiness.”.
I saw a similar situation happen with my brother. He got a great job offer and moved to the US. I went down to visit him once around 10 years ago. He was making in excess of 250K per year, had an 8000 square foot home and every “toy” you could imagine. He had what appeared to be a good relationship and two healthy children. We were sitting on his back deck on a Saturday afternoon and I commented on “How well he had done”. He replied, “Wait until you see what happens on Monday.” By Monday I was back in Toronto, living my life but I called him that evening to see what he meant. It turns out he quit his job. Subsequently he moved to another city, has a new wife and a significantly lower paying job. Why did he do this? He said he was no longer happy. He had achieved every goal he had desired and the one goal he missed along the way was the happiness derived from dreaming. He enjoyed dreaming, planning and working towards goals more than the ultimate achievement of that goal.
“The chase is better than the catch?”
The happiness we “feel” when working towards a goal or solving a problem is “because” we are working, achieving, solving or improving. It is a “by-product” if you will of the actions leading to a goal, not the goal itself.
Some researchers have found that dopamine levels are higher when we’re anticipating a pleasurable experience (working towards a goal) than after we’ve reached it. In fact, these anticipatory moments are actually the peak of what we call pleasure. Not only are we flooded with dopamine, but we are content with what we have. For a short time, we escape our usual flurry of incessant craving.
If someone asked us why we feel so good in a moment like this, we’d point to the fact that we had achieved a goal and not to the fact that our desire has subsided.
But as the dopamine levels subside, our normal mood returns, as does our craving. We desperately want to feel good again, so our minds latch onto another goal. The mind lures us into this behavioural pattern by telling us that the more we want, the more we’ll get, and the more we get, the happier we’ll be.