The Joy of Accomplishing Goals is Fleeting

I · September 12, 2021

Over the past month and a half, I’ve been looking for a new job.

I prepared and practiced with the goal of getting as good a job as possible. I had an idea for the type of workplace culture and salary range I was looking for, but was open to the possibility I wouldn’t be able to find something ideal.

Luckily, I got an offer at a company I was excited about. Even better, the pay and benefits were better than expected. (I did my best to play it cool on the call with the recruiter and prevent cartoon dollar signs from shooting out of my eyes.) The goal I had been working towards had been accomplished.

This felt quite good. I did a little dance to celebrate. Here’s the thing, though. After about 2 days the happiness of accomplishing a goal wore off. The whole thing even felt inevitable and I started to wonder if maybe I should have waited for something even better.

This post isn’t to brag about getting a job. It’s a reminder that we can get caught up in feeling a bit like once we accomplish that next goal, we’ll be happy forever. However, upon completion our minds almost immediately forget about it and move on to the next thing. You’ve probably experienced something similar. I remember Yale psychologist Laurie Santos mentioning in a public online course about happiness that she knew of a lot of students whose dream it was to get into Yale who were underwhelmed upon finally being accepted.

We all know this on some level, and yet we still feel like enough achievement might bring us lasting happiness.

I’m not trying to say that achieving goals won’t have any lasting impact at all. Even after the satisfaction of the achievement has worn off, the goal might come along with some longer-lasting benefits (eg in the case of a job, an enjoyable place to work and some money). Still, most of the time we unthinkingly overestimate how important any given goal will be for us.

What I’m taking away from this is the importance of gratitude and not forgetting how good I have it. Recently, I’ve been periodically imagining that I got a job at one of the other companies I was a bit less excited about, at the salary I was originally expecting. Then, I imagine learning that I get to switch to the job I currently have lined up. I get a little boost of excitement and gratitude.

Most of you will also have achievements for which you can be grateful, so I encourage you to join me and do a similar exercise.

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