Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Are your goals helping you achieve happiness, or preventing it?


I was trying to write a post and I couldn't get it to work. It was about setting goals by visualizing your ideal life and breaking down the steps to get from where you are to where you want to be. What was missing, I think, was gratitude. When I imagine my ideal life, it's all too natural for me to focus on the ways it's different from my current life, and ignore the ways it's the same. Instead, I want to take today's space, on this Thanksgiving eve, to reflect on the ways the life I'm living is my ideal life.


I'm in love with my wife. I have a job I like that pays well enough that I don't have to worry about money (except as a hobby). I love my room, a peaceful space with a comfy bed, a soft rub, and eleven houseplants. I've got friends and family that I love spending time with, including a best friend who is one of the smartest, coolest, and most dependable people I've ever met. I'm in a great stage of life: an independent adult (god, I hated being a child), married with no kids. I have free time to write a blog, take walks, and look at birds. If I were to write up an "ideal life" scenario, these things would definitely be on it.


Sure, there are things I would change. My condo's drafty. My job has no benefits. I don't get to see my niece as much as I'd like. And while I certainly think it's worthwhile to try to fix those things, I don't want to fixate on them so much that I ignore the good stuff I've already got. There are always going to be nonoptimal details, but really they are very minor compared to the blessings I already have.


When you get into personal finance in a big way, it's all about goals. Small achievements build to larger ones. I think that's why it can be so addictive (at least when your progress is going in the right direction). But I think there can be an overemphasis on goals in personal finance, and, well, just about everywhere else-- games, business, exercise, dieting, other self-improvement.


It's for good reason, of course. Goal-setting is effective. People can achieve a lot with the planning, focus, and forethought that goal-setting encourages. But it can also be destructive. Laser focus on our goals can keep us dissatisfied. I know that, personally, each time I achieve a goal, I set a new one. I move the bar as soon as it's clear that the achievement I've wanted for so long is within my grasp. The goal that occupied so much of my thoughts when it was The Unattainable Future Thing falls out of my brain, and I start thinking about the New Unattainable Future Thing.


I think we've all probably had this experience with buying stuff. You want something so much, and then you get it, and pretty soon it's just taking up space in your house while you lust over the next thing. I've definitely gotten sick of this endless cycle of buying and decluttering, and that's why I'm so interested in the idea of simplicty, of opting out of the cycle, stepping off the treadmill, and shrugging your shoulders at the nice products lined up in the mall display, all, "I'm fine with what I already have, thanks."


I haven't really applied the simplicity mindset beyond stuff, and into other aspects of my life. (Heck, I've barely applied it to stuff.) But I'm starting to see similar patterns in the way I go after savings goals, time commitments, publications, and other various life achievements. Imagine being able to say, and mean:


"I'm happy living where I am."


"I'm satisfied with the way I spend my time each day."


"No thanks, I already have enough money."


"I don't need any more success."


I'm not sure to what extreme I can or want to take this. I don't want to be a lump on the couch with a complete lack of direction, or an infuriating smug post-petty-human-concerns ascended being of light and yoga. And goals and achievements are fun; that's why they're in every game. But I think it's a worthwhile thought experiment to imagine how I would live my life if I weren't always striving, yearning, reaching, and visualizing. Imagine just… living.

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