Escape The Happiness Treadmill

21 Jan

We are always getting ready to live but never living. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

How many times have you thought “Once I a get a new job, I’ll be happy” or “When I lose 10 pounds, I’ll be happy” or “As soon as I land this big promotion, I will finally be happy” I do it all the time. Heck, I caught myself thinking this way today.  The problem with these “if-then” statements is that it takes us away from the present and makes us focus on this mystical future where we will be overflowing with happiness.

Tal Ben-Shahar calls this the “arrival fallacy,” which is the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you will finally be happy. This is an especially dangerous thought process as it is not usually the arrival at these goals that makes us happier. Actually, oftentimes by the time we arrive at the place where we thought we would be happy, we are faced with new challenges or new responsibilities. Once you land the promotion, you must begin working harder to prove yourself or once you lose those extra 10 pounds you must work hard to maintain your new weight or perhaps  you’ll decide you need to lose 5 more pounds. You hop right back on that happiness treadmill.

In my experience it hasn’t been the arrival at a goal that has made me happy but the actual process of working towards something bigger than myself. What’s more is because we are so consumed with the arriving we lose focus on the now. The present. The journey. We find ourselves constantly racing towards something bigger and better instead of appreciating where we are at that very moment. Yes, it’s absolutely important to set goals but it is just as important to stay present in the now. The easiest way to remain present is to simply slow down. Just as you savor your food more when you eat slowly, you can do the same with life. Slow down and savor each and every moment. Become more aware of your thinking. Are you constantly worrying about the future? Are you thinking of an “if-then” statement as you read this? Learn to recognize when you’re doing this, and then practice bringing yourself back to the present. Just focus on what you’re doing, right now. Enjoy the present moment.

Nailah

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2 Responses to “Escape The Happiness Treadmill”

  1. Amina January 21, 2010 at 5:58 pm #

    omg! this post is amazing and I had to send it to several people!!
    It summarizes how I’ve been approaching life.
    I’ve always been self-conscious about my body and always thoughts that If I had a flat stomach, I will be happy and people will like me.
    In my early 20s, I was a size 4 and unsatisfied, dying to be a size 0…never happened
    then my PCOS got worse and now I am in between 10-12 and look back at past pictures crying…
    then regarding work/education choices, I always thought that if I was doing business, i’d be happier…never worked so I had to follow my heart.
    same thing with my personality. I am shy/reserved and wish I could be bold
    so this year I am redefining happiness and living in the present!!
    sometimes I am so caught up trying to achieve my goals and forget to enjoy the present…
    thank you for this post

  2. nblades January 21, 2010 at 11:37 pm #

    @Amina – I’m so glad you enjoyed the post and can relate to it. I get into the same pattern of constantly striving for the next best thing. I just have to remind myself to slow down and enjoy the now.

    N-

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