The Arrival Fallacy

By Jim Hall May 26, 2017

Every person, at one time, has thought the following: “If only ____ would happen, then I would be happy!” Or, “Once I accomplish ____, things will be better!”

But once that “wish” comes to fruition, it often does not provide as much happiness as we hoped it would. So, while we should be celebrating a major milestone or success in our lives, we are often, instead, disappointed. Not only have I experienced this dynamic in my own life, but I have witnessed the exact same thing happen to friends, family, and colleagues. And it just doesn’t make sense!

As human beings, are we just wired to never be satisfied? Are we ungrateful by nature?

Fortunately, I stumbled upon an article that gave this phenomenon an actual term: “Arrival Fallacy.” People have a belief that once they “arrive” at a certain destination (income, graduation, marriage, new home, weight loss goal, etc.), they are going to be happy. It’s a fallacy because “arriving” rarely makes us as happy as we expect (that was it?!). In my opinion, there are two things happening in our minds that create this “fallacy.”

1. There is a natural emotional letdown after a goal or milestone has been achieved.

We focus for weeks, months, or even years on something specific that creates excitement and anticipation for the day we finally make it. There is an adrenaline rush when you close in on a big goal – those final days are the best! Then, it comes to an abrupt halt. You can check it off the bucket list (I did it!!). Okay, now what? We literally suffer withdrawal.

2. By the time we arrive at our destination, we have expected to reach it.

We go ahead and incorporate the accomplishment into our happiness during the journey. Think about it: No one is shocked or surprised the day they receive their college diploma. Although it may have been a life-long goal to get that degree, it starts to sink in at some point along the way that “this is going to happen.” Regardless if it happens during junior year or during the final week, we know that graduating is a reality before it actually happens. During the journey, we have many moments of excitement and anticipation along the way. We actually enjoy our accomplishment before it even happens…before we even arrive.

Looking back over my life and career, I truly believe that I have enjoyed my journeys more than my accomplishments. But since this reality has finally set in, I now find myself much more excited about trying to overcome the obstacles and challenges along the way to my next destination. In addition, I am now prepared for the fact that the accomplishment will NOT provide me infinite joy and happiness. I am most happy during the chase, and most likely you are, too!

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