“If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.”- Albert Einstein
I assume Albert means that achieving goals will probably bring you more happiness than people or things will.
Why do I believe this has merit? Well, we can go about our daily business just enjoying or not enjoying life, and seeing what and who comes along, with no plans, no goals, no dreams, completely in our comfort zones. Our happiness levels will be buffered by what is thrown at us and we may find ourselves more reactive than proactive i.e. reacting to events rather than proactively causing them. This can be an uncomfortable feeling.
However if we can become bigger than that, enlightened enough to accept and tolerate anything that comes our way and goal oriented so that our main focus is not on events as they occur, then the effect of the minutiae of daily life is exactly that. Minute. We become ‘the lake’ (refer to earlier post). If you have a ‘big picture’ it is likely that you have stood back to see your place in the world and have some dreams, plans for the future and circumstances that you would like to see eventuate. That’s where goals come in. To bring to life your vision of the future, goals are far more dependable than random acts and wishful thinking.
If you have a goal it is likely that you have thought hard about what really makes you happy. You can’t get what you want (and therefore live a happy life) unless you know what you want, so this whole process is guaranteed to bring joy! The mind doesn’t know the difference between what it sees and what it imagines (the placebo effect) therefore the mere act of introspection, imagination and dreaming can bring happiness. How many people buy their lottery tickets in order that they can dream of what they want? Dreaming is good. Unfortunately the happiness from that is usually all that the lottery ticket purchase affords the buyer, statistics being what they are.
If you are dependent on a goal for your happiness, you will likely be more patient with the way your life is heading, because most goals are not achieved in a day. The bigger the dream, the longer you may have given yourself to attain that goal. And joy will not only be achieved when the goal is reached as we have heard many times over. Happiness comes on the journey – with the feeling of having some control, some prediction of the way things are going and from seeing your efforts unfold.
If I can use an analogy, think of your life as a boat. It is probably better to choose a goal (direction) and to be actively steering it, than floating in the sea, at the mercy of the waves, weather and tides. Who better to decide which direction to steer your life than you? Choose your goal and steer.
Having the thing, (the boat) does not change your happiness level. The people on the boat may affect your happiness positively or negatively, unfortunately. Or their effect may be neutral. The boat and the passengers can’t suddenly read your mind and take your life/boat where you want it to go. They are too busy with their own fates. The forces of nature will still affect your life but you will be looking out towards your direction, a distant land, knowing that this storm is only temporary. A goal is in sight. You will chart your progress, even if only one metre forward, two metres back. Otherwise you may only be bemoaning the fact that more dark clouds are gathering and the waves are growing, wondering if you will be sunk or not. Quite disconcerting.
Einstein offers the options here of people or things to tie your happiness to. My philosophy is that what you do makes you generally happier than what you have. I can be at home having the exact same things around me and yet I will be happier on the days that I am doing the right things than the days when I am just having those things around me, aimless and unfocussed. Unfortunately we get all too used to the ‘things’ that we so wanted almost as soon as we have received them. The stimulus recedes over time. It’s just how the brain works! In the same way, I can paint a bedroom and find myself appreciating it for a week but then the joy fades. However by having and achieving that goal of painting it, I felt energised, absorbed and happier. The very act affects who I think I am, what I am capable of and is a prediction of being able to do it again. I have grown and the feeling lasts longer than my paint job.
In regards to tying happiness to people; people are only human. We are prone to moods and experiences and reactions to things as diverse as the full moon. To tie your happiness to other people and their actions, however tempting, will not guarantee anything long term. Especially if you care what they think about you. We have absolutely no control over others; only of our reactions to others. People (and things) are mostly outside our circle of influence – even our children! So what is in our circle of influence? What can we influence if we want to live a happy life? Our thoughts, our hopes and our dreams. And that is where goals come in!