Breaking the Vicious Cycle of Desire

Question: How can we break the cycle of wanting something else whenever we get something we want?

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Gretchen Rubin: There’s something called the “arrival fallacy.”  And the arrival fallacy is the belief that, if only I could get that job, then I would be happy.  Once I take that vacation, then I will be happy.  And usually when you reach that destination, it doesn’t bring this big bang of happiness that you expect.  But I do think that there is something about happiness where you feel like you’re always reaching out for it.  And one of the positive ways to address this is what I call an atmosphere of growth.  People feel happier when they feel like they’re progressing.  When they feel like something in their life is growing or getting better.  One of the ways you see this is, people have a strong preference to get raises, and in fact, studies show that they will choose to make less money overall in order to be paid in a structure where they get paid more and more over time rather than get paid less over time, even if they would make more money – if they took that second route, which doesn’t make sense from an economic standpoint, but it makes a lot of sense if you understand that people want this atmosphere of growth in their life.  But it doesn’t only have to be money.  It could be something like learning to do something new, learning French, learning Photoshop, making something better, cleaning out your garage.  Fixing things that don’t work, teaching somebody something, helping your child learn is one of the thrills of being a parent; training your dog, helping something grow, planting a garden, gaining new skills.  Anything like this where you feel this atmosphere of growth.  It’s a wonderful engine of happiness and it something that’s available to people even when maybe they feel like other parts of their lives are out of control, or aren’t working, or of they can find someplace in their life where something is getting better, where they feel like something is improving, in some way they are growing and it’s going to help them feel happier.

Recorded on February 16, 2010
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Whenever we get something we want, we seem to want something else. How can we escape the loop and learn to be content?

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