Not all unhappy people take this route. Many give-up under the strain, and resign themselves to a life where no goals are sought at all. They retreat to an easier twilight world where ambition and achievement don’t exist. Most unhappy people, however, remain devoted captive to the deeply-imbedded cultural myth we all share, “Ultimate success is the only road to happiness!”
So here we have two people. Both with the same skills, the same intelligence, the same abilities. Yet, one is happy and the other is not.
The difference, apparently, is where they set their goals. Happy people, setting their goals in a more realistic and achievable level, seems to accomplish everything they want to. Unhappy people, setting their goals on an impossible level, never accomplish theirs.
Even more sad, the research shows that unhappier people would be less able to achieve their higher goals, even if they’re goals weren’t so high. The typical research picture of the unhappy person is one of poorer competence and efficiency, unsustained motivation, low energy levels, and procrastination; while the picture of the happy person, according to the studies, is one of high competence and organization, strong self-direction, perseverance, energy and enthusiasm. Again we see a basic irony regarding the differences between happy and unhappy people. Happy people appear to be more capable, yet their ambitions are not extremely high. Unhappy people appear less capable, thus placing their higher ambitions even further from their reach. So not only do “happy people get what they want because they want what they can get” — it’s actually easier for them!
Perhaps even sadder, unhappy people usually don’t enjoy the petty, everyday successes happy people do — even when they do achieve them. Happy people actually seem to revel in minor successes. According to the studies, they appear to get a “kick” from the accomplishment of rather simple goals they’ve done time and time again. It is, as Abraham Maslow described it, “fresh appreciation.” Every time a task is mastered, even though it has been accomplished before, it brings joy.
For the unhappy person, successive accomplishment holds holds little weight. There is no “fresh appreciation.” The equaling of past performance provides little joy. Only greater and greater gains quenches their thirst (if only it could be attained). The unhappy person appears to be in a horrible trap: on one hand, their abilities for achievement are relatively low, yet their need to achieve is high. Typically, they are not satisfied with ordinary accomplishments, yet they dream of goals and ambitions far beyond their ability to achieve. What they can achieve brings them little satisfaction. What they want, they never achieve.