Almost from the time we’ve learned to walk we begin to learn how to be unhappy. So says Dr. Srikumar Rao at a recent conference on workplace happiness and I couldn’t agree more. From that cookie being the ultimate source of our happiness we quickly graduate to that car, fridge, promotion, vacation, etc. Have you ever noticed that once you got what you wanted, that you were soon yearning for another accomplishment or something more? The afterglow just doesn’t seem to satisfy as much as anticipated. Rao believes this is because we’ve adopted a flawed model that often leaves us perpetually striving for but never quite finding lasting happiness.
Many of us, I believe, experience lasting happiness as a brass ring that remains stubbornly just out of reach. Much of our business and personal world revolves around the continual chasing and attainment of goals of one sort or another. And not that business or personal goals are bad in and of themselves. It is just that so much of our emotional effort is tied up in their achievement that we may rarely experience lasting feelings of deep down satisfaction.
In our media saturated world we are up against some strong influences. Hollywood has a penchant for creating some fairly convincing tales of how to live happily ever after. The pitch is that if you do or get this you will then live in perpetual bliss. Advertising employs the same message…if you drink this, you’ll attract the mating pool of your dreams, or, if you wear this you’ll be desirable beyond measure. If only! By the time we reach our first jobs, we are well prepared to pursue our work with this mindset.
But as we grow and evolve so do our goals and desires. What once revved us up no longer turns the crank quite the same way. So we dig in and begin chasing another goal. As soon as we accomplish one others appear and others change. And so a vicious cycle of perpetual striving sets in…we begin to ask ourselves if we’ll ever be happy, like in the movies or as diamond ads promise.
T’is the Journey Grasshopper…
Rao offers what many other sage folks have told us, that joy is in the journey. To experience this you must learn to shift the main focus from goals or outcomes to the process and the actions you take on a daily basis. Whereas actions are within your control outcomes are rarely guaranteed. Different outcomes can happen that weren’t anticipated. Bummer. As well, the rush of achievement you thought would buoy you longterm can turn out to be fleeting. So you respond by chasing another goal. Rao’s solution is that we should instead invest much more heavily in the actions we take and that at the end of the day, if we can say we did our best, then that is what should be savoured. This way, you control your own sense of wellbeing and success instead of relying on some external variable that might not deliver on the promise.
What do think? Have you ever found yourself wondering why the goal or thing that you’ve just achieved doesn’t give you the kick you thought it might? How do you keep yourself mindful or your goals yet pumped and happily engaged on a regular basis?