When I was new in my business years ago, I would tell my wife, “Once we make it, things will be different.”
Now that my business is behind me, I regret comforting her, and myself, with those words.
Negativity fueled my success in business. Every win was just a band-aid for the shame I felt underneath. But for some reason, I felt like this negativity was the reason I was more successful. Turns out, it became the source of my burnout and the reason why I let go of the business.
At the time, I thought I was comforting myself with this idea of one day “arriving.” Instead, I was unknowingly feeding my negativity.
The idea of “arriving” is probably feeding your negativity today.
The Arrival Fallacy
In his book, Happier, Tal Ben-Shahar calls this idea the “arrival fallacy.” It’s when you believe arriving at a certain destination will make you happy and solve all your problems.
On the surface, “arriving” is a way to comfort in the midst of problems.
One day, we won’t have to worry about debt.
One day, we’ll have a happy marriage.
One day, things will be different.
But believing that one day you’ll arrive does nothing to change the present. In fact, the arrival fallacy does more harm than good.
Here are four ways the arrival fallacy is harmful to our happiness today:
1. It doesn’t allow you to be present.
It’s a good thing to be future-oriented, but not so much that it steals your focus from the present. Constantly looking toward a future destination should never steal your gratitudes from the present.
In the book, Happier, Tal-Ben-Shahar says that the solution to the arrival fallacy is learning to enjoy the journey instead. Instead of putting happiness at the arrival of your destination, find happiness when you’re on your way to the destination.
When you do this, you can be present with the journey you’re on right now.
If you don’t enjoy the journey now, chances are, you won’t enjoy the destination when you reach it.
2. It doesn’t allow you to accept pain.
We typically speak the arrival fallacy when we want to comfort from pain. But in doing this, we don’t learn to accept the pain. Instead, we teach ourselves how to quickly shift away from it.
Studies show that the more we learn to accept our painful emotions, the better equipped we are to handle our stressors.
Learning to accept pain increases our stress tolerance. But the more we “comfort” with the arrival fallacy, the more we decrease our stress tolerance.
So what does it mean to accept pain?
It is believing the simple idea that life was not designed to be 100% happy. We have the contrast between good and bad for a reason, and the more we accept that the negative contrast is natural, the less trouble we have with it.
If we’re always fighting our circumstances with the idea that “life shouldn’t be this way,” it keeps us stuck in a pattern of negativity.
The arrival fallacy might seem like comforting words, but it’s teaching people to not accept their life as it currently is, which will only decrease their stress tolerance and resilience.
3. It puts a condition on happiness.
One of the reasons people don’t feel happy today is because they’ve put a condition on their happiness. They say, “I can’t be happy until…”
But conditional happiness is a choice, and we can let go of it. It might not seem like it, but putting conditions on our happiness is serving some purpose for us. There’s a reason why we’re making the choice to not feel happiness now.
In the days of our early ancestors, they couldn’t feel happiness because doing so would make them more vulnerable to threats in the wild. If they let their guard down, a tiger might eat them in the wild. Their inability to feel happiness protected them.
Today, we’re making the same choice. We put conditions on our happiness to protect us. We don’t want to be vulnerable, because if something does happen, we’ll hurt more.
But this fear of vulnerability only strengthens our negativity.
You might be putting conditions on your happiness, but it’s not protecting you. Instead, it’s just feeding your negativity.
You can make the choice to be happy now and eliminate all the conditions you’ve placed on your happiness.
4. It rarely meets our expectations.
When I had reached my business goals, an interesting thing happened. I wasn’t happy. The thing that I kept pointing to in the future was finally my present… and yet, it didn’t feel any different.
This is a phenomenon known as hedonic adaptation. In essence, our minds are designed to get used to stuff, even the big events we expect to change everything. Studies show that events like winning the lottery increase our happiness for a moment before quickly returning to a baseline.
We expect our lives to be drastically different when we “arrive.” But the truth is, when we “arrive,” we’ll just have another set of problems to deal with, and life won’t be so different.
Arriving doesn’t eliminate our problems at all. Problems are forever.
If this is your expectation, then you’ll be greatly disappointed when you actually “arrive.”
What to Believe Instead?
The arrival fallacy is a powerful force that keeps us stuck in unhappiness when we have the choice for happiness today. The problem is, it’s elusive. When we think we’re comforting, we’re actually damaging.
Fortunately for you, reading this article and increasing your awareness of this fallacy is the first step.
But what should you believe instead?
Instead of believing that when you “arrive,” life will be better, believe that the journey is better than reaching the destination.
Reality is, the journey is always better than arriving. But we focus so much on the destination that we ignore the journey.
If you can learn to be happy on your way to the destination, then you’ll protect yourself from the disappointment you’ll feel when you “arrive” and it’s not what you thought it would be. In fact, learning to be happy now is one of the best investments you can make for your future joy.
The arrival fallacy is a slippery foe. However, you can evade its attempts at your happiness. Just believe that the journey you’re on right now is better than the destination, because it always is.