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What Counselling Therapists Should Know About the Arrival Fallacy

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In our goal-oriented world, it’s not uncommon to hear someone say that they’ll be happy once they secure a coveted promotion, gain that much-desired raise, or even become famous. In fact, according to one recent study, for over 80% of millennials, becoming rich is one of their greatest ambitions (Waldinger, 2015). Sacrifices made in pursuit of these goals might seem well worth it at the outset, since many believe that once they reach that coveted goal, they’ll finally feel happy and fulfilled. Indeed, according to another study, “One in 12 millennials would cut off their own family to become a household name.” (Henderson, 2017).

However, attaining a long-awaited goal sometimes comes with unintended consequences, and may even leave the person feeling less satisfied than they initially imagined. Why is that, and what can be done to remedy the problem? Continue reading to find out.

How the Arrival Fallacy Works

The arrival fallacy is a term that was first coined by Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar, an expert in positive psychology. It “is the (false) belief that when we achieve a particular goal, we’ll finally become—and remain—happy” (Blair, 2018).

The reasons behind this phenomenon are complex, and can vary from person to person. To start with, one important reason for the arrival fallacy is that the satisfaction that comes with reaching a coveted goal is only temporary (Blair, 2018). If someone believes that they will reach lasting happiness once they have achieved a particular goal, they might be disappointed to discover just how impermanent that happiness was. For others, part of the problem might be that achieving their goal comes with unintended consequences, some of which might be negative. They might have purchased their dream home, but now worry about renovations and maintenance, or secured a promotion only to find that it leads to more stress and less work-life balance (Shilton, 2019).

Long hours spent working towards a goal can mean that hobbies and other areas are given less time

Long hours spent working towards a goal can mean that hobbies and other areas are given less time

In some cases, a person may have made huge sacrifices to reach their goal. They might have spent less time with family and friends, or neglected their own health and wellbeing. As a result, some might reach their goal only to feel isolated, alone, or unsatisfied with other aspects of their life. For those who don’t know that they are experiencing arrival fallacy, they might simply move onto the next goal to feel better again, repeating the cycle. Others might worry that “something is inherently broken within them” and lose hope of ever feeling truly happy (Shilton, 2019)

Promoting Lasting Happiness and Fulfillment as a Counselling Therapist

If achieving a long-awaited goal can’t lead to lasting happiness, then what can? Fortunately, there is a lot that you can do as a counselling therapist. It’s important to remind clients to live in the moment, and enjoy the journey as much as the destination. In fact, “The antidote to being possessed by the belief that I will be happy “as soon as” is to live more fully in the present.” (Bloom, 2017) After all, working towards a dream career or loving relationship can feel rewarding in its own right. Encouraging clients to savour these moments, and celebrate small victories, can help them address arrival fallacy.

Living in the present is important to happiness

Living in the present is important to happiness

It can be tempting to try to counteract the arrival fallacy by discouraging goal setting altogether. However, this approach isn’t necessary, or even a good idea. Goals in and of themselves are not inherently bad, nor is striving to achieve them futile. A sense of purpose and forward momentum even contributes to happiness and wellbeing (Blair, 2018). For this reason, graduates of therapist college programs can instead encourage clients to find balance and joy when pursuing goals. Maintaining balance with other aspects of their life, or taking the time to recuperate after a particularly busy period, can help to offset negative feelings.

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Works Cited

2Blair, L. (2018) The ‘Arrival Fallacy’: why reaching that goal won’t make you happy. The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved from: https://www.smh.com.au/lifestyle/health-and-wellness/the-arrival-fallacy-why-reaching-that-goal-won-t-make-you-happy-20180612-p4zkxa.html

Bloom, L. & Bloom, C. (2017) Myth: “As Soon As”. Psychology Today. Retrieved from: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/stronger-the-broken-places/201703/myth-soon

Henderson, J. M. (2017) One In Four Millennials Would Quit Their Job To Be Famous. Forbes. Retrieved from: https://www.forbes.com/sites/jmaureenhenderson/2017/01/24/one-in-four-millennials-would-quit-their-job-to-be-famous/#d17a47b2c438

Shilton, A.C. (2019) You Accomplished Something Great. So Now What? The New York Times. Retrieved from: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/28/smarter-living/you-accomplished-something-great-so-now-what.html

Waldinger R. (2015) What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. TED: Ideas Worth Spreading. Retrieved from: https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness