I recently ran across an interview with Tal Ben-Shehar, author of Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. During the interview, Ben-Shahar was asked about the fact that his research suggests that money and success matter little in terms of happiness. His response?
This is a concept that my students and our society in general struggle with. Happiness largely depends on our state of mind, not on our status or the state of our bank account. It depends on what we choose to focus on (the full or empty part of the glass) and on our interpretation of external events. For example, do we see failure as catastrophic, or do we see it as a learning opportunity?
One of the most common barrier to happiness is the false expectation that one thing — a promotion at work, a prize, a revelation — will bring us eternal bliss. As soon as your achieve your goal, the “what’s next” syndrome kicks in, leaving you as unfulfilled as before.
In fact, I would go a bit further (based on no evidence beyond personal experience) and argue that the “one thing” that you’ve been hoping for (the promotion or prize) can sometimes make you less happy in the long run, as such things are often accompanied by increased responsibility, a heavier workload, higher expectations, etc. Be careful what you wish for!