A few years ago, a group of second year Harvard students was asked by their seminar leader, Tal ben Shahar, about the day they received their acceptance letter to the prestigious university. Were they happy when they received that news? How many felt at that moment that they would be happy for the rest of their lives? That they had finally made it, that they had found the holy grail? Virtually every one of the students raised their hand. Yes, of course, this was pure joy. Then Shahar asked the same group, “How many of you are happy right now, today?” Most of the group lowered their hands, because of course, the success of reaching that long sought for goal did not bring them lasting happiness.
How many of us have experienced something similar? We work long and hard to attain the next promotion at work, to buy the bigger house, to run the marathon, to lose 20 pounds, thinking that this will be the thing that makes us happy. When we reach that goal, we do feel happy, but it is fleeting. Before long, there is something new in our sight, something bright and shiny that we believe is the answer to our longing for contentment and satisfaction with our life.
Positive psychologists propose that we have the whole thing reversed. It’s not success that brings happiness, instead, it is happiness that brings success. Their research is showing that happier people have greater success at work, better relationships, more energy and creativity, and better health. And the most exciting part is that their work is demonstrating that there are simple techniques we can adopt, such as journaling, meditation, and rituals for lasting change, that can lead to greater happiness and life satisfaction.
When have you reached a long-desired goal, only to feel that the joy of achieving that goal was short-lived?