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Why reaching your goals in 2024 will not make you happy and what to change about them

Here we are in February: what have you decided to run after this year? A degree? A promotion? A new position? A summit? If you're already in the race, read this and ensure you're pedaling in the right direction.

Our society values a career. Work matters to you. You chase progression, and you strive to keep learning and challenging yourself. You want to seduce your way to success and crave social recognition. But you also think nothing is free, and there is a price to pay for success. The sweet tyranny of performance!

So inevitably, while gritting your teeth, you hope things will improve one day. You will feel accomplished when you reach a certain position. Things will be easier when the project is over. You will relax when the crisis situation has stabilized.

Until then, you compensate as you can for this stress and burden. A hop on social media, a drunken night after work, a well-deserved cigarette, or the latest handbag. Small and fair rewards on the road to happiness, right?

Colleagues - high five - office
Genuine joy or rush of dopamine? Credit: Wix

The truth is that it never comes, does it? And somewhere along the line, we intuitively know that. So here is why and what to do instead.

Happiness is a matter of neurotransmitters

Dr. Gabor Maté, in his latest book, The myth of normal, criticizes our society and highlights the impact of its functioning on our health. A passage inspires me this post. "What the system sells as happiness is actually pleasure." Pleasure is dopamine. That oh-so-pleasant substance secreted after a drink, a like, or even a promotion won, for example.

"What the system sells as happiness is actually pleasure." Dr. Gabor Maté

But dopamine only works in the short term. Our brains are hard-wired to return to a state of balance when we experience intense emotions! You surely noticed these pleasures end up in a hangover or the additional stress of a new job where everything must be done again. Worse, pleasure is highly addictive! Medical professor Robert Lustig explains: pleasure is "it feels good, I want more" and specifies that all addictions mobilize the dopamine or opiate systems of the brain.

The great confusion between pleasure and satisfaction

So do we really want to keep chasing these feelings? One study found that 72% of successful entrepreneurs suffer from depression or other mental health problems. Success does not necessarily bring happiness! Harvard social science professor Arthur Brooks points out: "When people see themselves as little more than their attractive bodies, jobs, or bank accounts, it brings great suffering." Because success and satisfaction are independent variables.

Happiness, in reality, is "I feel good, I am satisfied, I am complete," explains Dr. Maté. Happiness and satisfaction work with serotonin: "contentment is based on the serotonin apparatus, which is more stable and has a slow release."

"Happiness and contentment work on the serotonin" Dr. Gabor Maté

Happiness is lying in freshly washed sheets, smiling at the ducks by the lake, or being there for and with your loved ones. Happiness costs little or nothing. It is an inner state above all. Let's say that after the security needs of Maslow's pyramid, it becomes seriously accessible. Unfortunately, since happiness does not bring in anything for the economy, the pleasures of life probably still have a long way to go.

The art of cultivating satisfaction

Perhaps by being aware of their ephemeral and addictive nature, you will look at the pleasures of life with less envy and will especially start asking yourself how to cultivate contentment. Because the good news is that feeling good, whole, and complete is in your hands, and you can develop it!

Pragmatically, gratitude, compassion, and other-oriented action are known strategies for cultivating happiness. Easier said than done? Of course, developing this is not obvious. Why is it so? Because the mind cannot handle conflicting beliefs, and emotions always defeat logic. In other words, you probably have an old program that unconsciously says "doing more and achieving more is my way to happiness." You'll have to eliminate the roots of this belief to cultivate this contentment more easily and start savoring life differently. Otherwise, you are in a painful, if not doomed, exercise of willpower. cf. changing your habits? Forget about willpower. It's totally overrated - in French)

In short,

Take the time to check what you are running after this year. Remember that we are running after an emotion (see seven ideas to boost your annual goals significantly - in French). Learning to move away from "dopamine goals" and their ephemeral pleasures and start chasing "serotonin goals" is your greatest chance of achieving satisfaction and contentment at work and in life. Because

Cultivating contentment is "carbo-loading" to an unprecedented inner calm,

Cultivating satisfaction is freeing yourself from constant underlying pressure,

Cultivating satisfaction is, above all, getting back crazy energy for what matters to you and realizing that... You accomplish just as much but differently ;-) !

So what do you want to adjust in your 2023 goals?

And if gaining satisfaction and serenity should be part of your ambitions and you need help with that, let me know.

Have a great week!


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