I came across an interesting concept recently – joyless striving. It was used to describe ambition without purpose. The pursuit of goals – jobs, houses, cars, travel, entertainment, money, clothes, recognition, the latest technology, relationships – without any meaning attached to them.
A joyless striving to have more, better, bigger, greater, higher, but without a clear sense of why.
It got me thinking.
Strip back our lives and you’d agree that the majority of us are on a fairly similar trajectory. We graduate, find a job, get into a relationship, buy or rent a place to live, have a family, get some savings, go on a few holidays, pay off the mortgage, raise and release kids, save a bit more, retire, become a grey nomad, mind the grandkids and…
Sure, the order may change, and some people may forgo one or more items on the list, but most of us focus our lives around achieving these same few milestones.
The issue with joyless striving isn’t that we go after these goals, it’s why we go after them and how we judge whether we’ve attained them. The problem is not reaching for the milestone, it is deciding when you’ve achieved it.
Did you get a good enough education? Is your job sufficiently impressive? Is your house big enough? Do you earn enough money? Is your car new enough? Are your children in good schools? Do you have enough to retire? Should you have achieved more by now?
But who exactly determines the answer to these questions?
We’d like to say “I do!” But that’s the problem isn’t it? It’s not just you. All these aspirations are a collective set of moving goal posts that have been erected by us as a society and to which we hold ourselves and others accountable.
The result of this is that there is no clear point at which you can say you have achieved enough. Because it’s no longer sufficient to have a fridge full of food, a place to live, a loving family and enough money to keep it all together.
We know it’s possible to have more so we raise the bar up a bit further to include eating out regularly, a house with separate bedrooms, a car, a trip away with the family and a few “toys” to entertain ourselves.
But wait… that’s not really enough either is it? I mean by today’s standards that’s setting the bar fairly low.
Nope what you want to be aiming for is enough money to eat and play as you wish, have a big house with spare rooms, a study and a pool, regular holidays abroad, Xboxes, ipads, updated wardrobe, 4 wheel drive and a job title that makes people go “wow, you’re doing well!”.
And then… even then, it somehow still doesn’t feel quite enough. And that’s where joyless striving comes in. We have ambition. We have goals. But what is the purpose behind them? What will you gain and what will you lose? How do they support your values?
The problem with striving without purpose is that when you finally reach the next set of goal posts (you know, the one that is going to finally make you happy) you may feel momentarily satisfied, but that feeling quickly fades back to dissatisfaction and a craving for… more because you aren’t connected with why it was important.
So, what’s the antidote?
It’s making sure that you aren’t simply going for symbolic measures of achievement, but instead pursuing things that align with your values, that utilise your strengths and empower you as an individual. And it also means taking time to savour and enjoy what you have already achieved… all the little pleasures along the way.
Instead of attaching happiness to a future goal, find your purpose and revel in the journey.