I can’t believe that I’m writing these words, at last: today is the publication day for my book . As of today, it’s out in the world, available for sale at bookstores near you. It seems like so long ago that I sat on that crowded bus, on a rainy afternoon, and wondered, “What do I really want from life? Well, I want to be happy .” Then I admonished myself, “In that case, I really should start a happiness project.” And I did.
In his book Happier , Tal Ben-Shahar describes the arrival fallacy , the belief that when you arrive at a certain destination, you’ll be happy. (Other fallacies include the floating world fallacy , the belief that immediate pleasure, cut off from future purpose, can bring happiness, and the nihilism fallacy , the belief that it’s not possible to become happier.) The arrival fallacy is a fallacy because, though you may anticipate great happiness in arrival, arriving rarely makes you as happy as you anticipate.
First of all, by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. Also, arrival often brings more work and responsibility. Having a baby. Getting a promotion. Buying a house. You look forward to reaching these destinations, but having reached them, they bring emotions other than sheer happiness, as well. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals another, yet more challenging goal.
The challenge, therefore, is to take pleasure in the atmosphere of growth , in the gradual progress made toward a goal, in the present. The unpoetic name for this very powerful source of happiness is “pre-goal attainment positive affect.” One thing about working on my happiness project: it has given me a huge amount of pre-goal attainment positive affect.
But the arrival fallacy doesn’t mean that pursuing goals isn’t a route to happiness. To the contrary. The goal is necessary, just as is the process toward the goal. Nietzche explained it well: “The end of a melody is not its goal; but nonetheless, if the melody had not reached its end it would not have reached its goal either. A parable.”
Whatever happens with this book, for good or for ill, I had a vision for what I wanted to do, and I did it . I’ve loved every minute of thinking and writing about happiness, and indeed, the subject feels inexhaustible, and I’ll keep writing about happiness for the foreseeable future. I feel incredibly fortunate that I was able to spend the time the way I did, and to write the book that I got to write, and now it’s done.
And that makes me very happy.
Some highlights so far:
Today show scheduled for January 8
Starred review in Publishers Weekly
Named one of the “10 Must-Read Books” for 2010 by Oprah’s Book Club
Marketplace radio interview air-date TBA
Woman’s Day year-long Happiness Project
Amazon Top 100—I hit no. 80!
* Through the wonders of the internet, I got to know Alexandra Levit, and our books are being published on the very same day!—which gives you a fellow-feeling akin to being from the same hometown. Her book, New Job, New You: A Guide to Reinventing Yourself in a Bright New Career , is a great resource for anyone who is thinking about making a career change—switching careers is a major undertaking in any happiness project, but an extremely important one, if needed.
* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at
grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com
. (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.
* Interested in starting your own happiness project? If you’d like to take a look at my personal Resolutions Chart, for inspiration, just email me at grubin, then the “at” sign, then gretchenrubin dot com . (Sorry about writing it in that roundabout way; I’m trying to thwart spammers.) Just write “Resolutions Chart” in the subject line.