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You achieved what you wanted. So why don’t you feel happy?

September 18, 2019
arrival fallacy

Arrival fallacy

A few years ago, I ran my own business as a sideline selling vintage jewellery. It started to take off; celebrity stylists got in touch for their a list clients in both UK and Hollywood, I got featured in glossy magazines and made a bit of cash.

And yet despite all that, I just felt flat.

I’d achieved everything I‘d set out to. I’d proved I could start a business with less than a hundred quid. I’d been noticed by fashion insiders and journalists. But instead of being happy about it, I felt a bit deflated and I wasn’t sure what was making me feel this way.

According to Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard trained positive psychology expert, I had arrival fallacy.

What is arrival fallacy?

Arrival fallacy is based on the idea that external recognition of our achievements doesn’t make us happy. Ben-Shahar who coined the phrase describes it as: “the illusion that once you make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach everlasting happiness.”

Essentially I had got what I wanted – and yet it didn’t give me the feeling I thought it would.

How many times do we think we’ll be happy when we get a promotion, a new job, a partner, a new house etc and then feel unsettled when somehow things still haven’t fallen into place?

How many times have I said to myself, I’ll be happy when I lose a stone without thinking about the fact I wasn’t doing cartwheels with joy when I weighed 8 stone?

We set our goals higher and higher and then when we achieve them, we feel deflated because it didn’t give us the happiness we thought it would.

Remember happiness comes from within

Yes, I know I’m rocking out a self-care cliche but it really is true: happiness comes from within.

Sure, a compliment can be a nice boost and being recognised for doing a good job makes you feel appreciated – but fundamentally only we can make ourselves happy.

It’s good to recognise the smaller moments in life. The little wins where we felt proud of ourselves and the good things that happened along the way. It’s also important to reflect on how we’ve changed and grown. We all evolve.

Being in the moment is important

I do feel it’s useful to think about the future and not drift along aimlessly hoping for someone to pluck you out of obscurity and transport you to a better life (hello 20-something me). In my experience, you have to work towards something to make things happen in your favour.

However, it’s also important to think about how those goals and what you think success really looks like? Is it always about the achievement of goals or what you’re learning and experiencing along the way? So have you grown? Do you feel different? Has the experience shaped you? What have you learnt along the way?

For a filmmaker, does happiness come from receiving an Oscar and listening to the applause from an adoring crowd? Or is it being able to bring people together and create your vision?

Likewise, for a writer, is it about winning prizes, or the enjoyment of crafting words to put on a page?

Now, I’m not saying external recognition isn’t important – none of us can live off fresh air alone. I’m just using this to illustrate how we need to look at what actually makes us happy.

Can we help ourselves to be happier?

So if achieving our goals don’t make us happy and we know that arrival fallacy exists, then how do we make ourselves happy? Are there ways we can inject ourselves with a dose of happiness?

There are times when things are truly rubbish and I personally feel, those feelings should be validated. I’m not a big fan of the idea we should always be thinking positively whatever the situation. I believe you need to process your emotions: good and bad.

There are other times though, when there’s not really anything terrible happening – but it feels like nothing really great either. Life is just a bit blah. It’s those moments where we can change our mindsets.

For me, gratitude practice is one of the quickest ways to help me notice the smaller things that work in my favour. I feel grateful for the slightly delayed train, which means I don’t have to wait for the next one when I’m running late and it makes me realise life can be on my side. Once you start noticing these little moments, you see them more and more and your mood elevates overall.

I prefer to practice gratitude in the morning – other people prefer to think about what went well at night. Some people do both. Whatever works for you really.

Some people get more from journaling and using to to identify common themes and issues which can be looked at and changed where necessary.

Other people write notes with affirmations, listen to motivational podcasts and/or meditate to help cut the chatter in their minds. Some of us do as much as we can.

Happiness isn’t reached by a tick list – it ebbs and flows – but it’s always within our grasp.

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