Today is January 28 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how many dreams do you have?” Ted Turner’s father echoed told his Ted Jr., founder of CNN and philanthropist, “Son, you be sure to set your goals so high that you can’t possibly accomplish them in one lifetime. That way you will always have something ahead of you. I made the mistake of setting my goals too low and now I’m having a hard time coming up with new ones.” Shortly thereafter his father committed suicide. There is an incredible lesson to learn from this part of Ted Turner Jr.’s backstory and the message his father gave to him. If you have as many dreams as you need two lifetimes to achieve, you will never have trouble coming up with new ones. If you set your goals so high that you are always working on translating one into reality, you will never be bored. If you take seriously the human capacity to dream, and then keep dreaming throughout your entire life, you will have learned a valuable approach to navigating the chaos and practicing the art of living well.
The nuance involved in today’s reflection requires an understanding that happiness should not be directly linked to translating one dream after another into reality. If you focus on the attainment of one dream for your happiness, you risk falling into a trap that researchers label arrival fallacy or summit syndrome. As you reflect upon your ability to dream throughout your entire life, also spend a moment asking yourself if your happiness is tied to achieving one or more dreams. You need to differentiate between the pursuit of your dream and the translation of that dream into reality-what we can label ‘the end.’ As Friedrich Nietzsche wrote in his book The Wanderer and His Shadow about ends and goals “not every end is a goal. The end of a melody is not its goal.” The achievement of your dream is not the goal, nor is it the end. How often have you thought about that? Do you view the attainment of a goal the end of a path you are traveling? Although you may think translating one dream after another into reality will make you happy, rest assured the research suggest otherwise.
The research suggests “People are generally not as happy as they expected they would be when they achieve their goals.” In his book Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Harvard psychologist Tal Ben-Shahar labeled the arrival fallacy as: “The false belief that reaching a valued destination can sustain happiness. Arrival fallacy is this illusion that once we make it, once we attain our goal or reach our destination, we will reach lasting happiness.” Moreover, management consultants George Parsons and Richard Pascale call the pursuit of dreams related to happiness as the summit syndrome among over-achievers-who focus not on their goals but only on their craving for the adrenalin that comes from continually challenging themselves. According to Parson and Pascale “Inevitably, they over-extend for too long… and end up burning out. When they then attempt to put their lives back together, they become painfully aware that they’ve no sense of a bigger picture.” The bigger picture involves friends, family, and a strong sense of self.
Happiness researcher and the author of the Happiness Advantage Shawn Achor believes that “Our formula for happiness and success is backwards. We think if we accomplish a goal and have a certain level of success, then we will be happy. But every time we succeed our brains change the benchmark for what that success looks like. Success is a challenge because the brain gets addicted to the rush. It invests more resources into increasing that success, but sometimes at the cost of other things that lead to happiness – social connection, quiet time, reflection and peace.”
The nuance related to today’s reflection involves recognizing the need to keep dreaming and reaching your entire life but remaining focused on happiness as something that happens outside of the pursuit of our dreams. If you are waiting for your dreams to be translated into reality to bring you happiness, that in and of itself is a danger sign. It is dangerous for your own development, as well as the relationships you have with your family and friends. Achor recommends relying on a more balanced approach when defining success so that it involves aspects of life unrelated to professional achievements. If you have all your pleasure, attention, and energy in one domain of your life, for example, your career, Achor suggests you will become fragile. He noted “if one area is doing well, diversify and put energy into social connections, exercise and altruism.” How often do you measure success or happiness based on the achievement of a dream or goal? Have you ever thought about measuring success by the number of dreams you have?
As other Navigate the Chaos posts suggest, dreaming is certainly not enough; one needs to act. But within this concept and for today’s reflection exercise, focus solely on the number of dreams that you have. You can also take a moment to assess how well you have kept dreaming as you age. If you are over the age of 40 are you still dreaming? Over the age of 50? If you have stopped dreaming have you asked yourself why that is so? Is someone in your life telling you not to dream? Have you told yourself to stop dreaming?