Happiness and achieving goals are related, are you happier when you achieve a goal or before or while you are struggling to meet your goal? The answer seems obvious. Of course, you are happier when everything is done and the struggle is over but it’s not as simple as that.
What is your goal? Maybe the goal for you is to graduate from college or finally reach your desired weight, whatever it might be, you are probably familiar with that surprising letdown once you achieve the goal you’ve been working so hard to achieve. This is all you wanted for months or even years and now when you have it… it’s not a big deal anymore. Why does this happen? It all comes down to how motivation works and how our brain works?
It all starts with dopamine, something that we could call a rewarding chemical in our brain. Dopamine is the chemical that spikes when you fall in love or when you eat chocolate. Researchers suggest that when you eat chocolate, the pleasure kicks in thanks to dopamine. New studies are looking into dopamine from a different angle. It turns that the pleasure is not caused by a reward, but by the motivation and by the pursuit of a reward. When you see chocolate, dopamine is responsible for a rewarding feeling since it will urge you to eat the chocolate. Once you finish eating chocolate, the pleasure is gone, and you probably want more.
In reality, dopamine is more complex than this. Essentially, dopamine is a neurotransmitter which is a chemical that passes all the information from one brain cell to another. What dopamine does to your body? It depends on where it is in your brain. What neurons are involved? What receptors are receiving dopamine signals? Depending on the area of the brain, dopamine can regulate hormone levels, movement or even organ functions. However, it’s possible that every time you hear dopamine it was related to its effects on the mesolimbic dopamine system, meaning, that rewarding part of your brain that helped our ancestors to survive.
The level of dopamine is higher when people gamble, do drugs, have sex, eat delicious food or listen to music. This is not surprising! What’s surprising is that the level of dopamine is higher when a war veteran with PTSD has flashbacks.
So, how is all of this related to the rewarding feeling of achievement or to the motivation to work towards a goal, and the feeling of happiness? When you are striving to reach the goal, you are dreaming about the goal and how your life will look like once you achieve it, the level of dopamine is high in that very same moment. Once you achieve the goal, of course, you feel good about it but the rush of excitement is gone.
It’s truly more about the journey than about reaching the destination. Some even report feeling empty when they reach a goal. To avoid this, you should embrace and cherish the feeling of achievement and celebrate it. It’s crucial to understand that achieving a goal will not give you the feeling of bliss and you might even be disappointed when it’s all done.
The most obvious way of staying excited and happy is setting up a new goal, even if it’s a smaller one. The point is to grow without stopping and celebrate your successes. Still, don’t make goals that will make you feel like you will burn out if you continue setting up demanding goals, while feeling excited, then frustrated when you hit roadblocks and then you feel good but nothing special when you finally achieve the goal. Enjoy the ride!