Arrival Fallacy, Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Now

boys eating ice creamHas any father ever experienced the Terrible Twos and not longed to flash forward to a future, happier time?

Who’s to say said time will be happier? Better? More fulfilling?

I’ve been wrasslin’ with the notion of “arrival fallacy” as a parent without even knowing the term. The phrase is commonly attributed to a 2009 book “Happier” by Tal Ben-Shahar. The author describes the sense that a future date will bring us happiness once a series of goals are met. I’ll be happier when I get that raise, or graduate college or even reach retirement age.

Here’s mine: I’ll be downright giddy when my son can wipe his own bum.

Let’s have a happiness guru explain the “fallacy” part of arrival fallacy:

Because usually by the time you’ve arrived at your destination, you’re expecting to reach it, so it has already been incorporated into your happiness. You quickly become adjusted to the new state of affairs. And of course, arriving at one goal usually reveals a new goal. There’s another hill to climb.

In fact, working toward a goal can be a more powerful source of happiness than hitting it – which can sometimes be a letdown. It’s important, therefore, to look for happiness in the present, in the atmosphere of growth afforded by making gradual progress toward a goal (technical name: pre-goal attainment positive affect).

Every time I labor to get Benj into his car seat or tell a teary-eyed Eli why we can’t have a shark pet I force myself to think of things I won’t experience down the short road. The crazed grin Ben sports when he climbs into his crib on his own. The pageantry of Eli piecing together the letters of a word for the first time. The boys successfully sharing a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup just like Barney taught them to do.

That’s happiness in the here and now, and there’s nothing fallacious about it.

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