Can we become blinded by our goals?
It’s the weekend and I’m preparing a roast dinner for my family. Outside it’s cold, wet, windy and a little dark. On the table is a bottle of wine. And in the background, I have the radio on. Could there be anything more British?
Yes. There could be. I’m listening to this weekend’s football game where my team, Aston Villa, are putting in a dominating performance against the Premier League champions, Liverpool. So much so that they eventually win the game 7-2. Epic. I’m euphoric. This never usually happens, especially if you’re an Aston Villa fan.
These are the moments that matter. The small ones. Just as much as the big ones.
This year’s lockdown has been a profound learning experience for everyone
We’ve had more time on our hands. And without the usual distractions, we’ve been forced to think about new things in new ways and re-examine the old.
From the financial to the personal, we’ve been able to evaluate things that are really important to us. Friends, family, time spent at home. I’ve learnt this myself, but also from my clients.
Naturally many of them have re-evaluated their financial plans in light of revisiting their goals. They’ve had to put retirement plans on hold - trips abroad, cruises, big plans. Instead, they focused internally and spent their money on things that mattered closer to home.
I’ve seen how doing this has helped people to value these things in a new way and brought them a sense of calm. It’s still important, of course, that they get to retire in the way they’ve always dreamed of. But that’s not to say that failing to hit that mark is going to be any ‘less’ or make them unhappy. It could, in fact, even be the opposite.
It’s easy to be seduced by the ambitious plans, the dramatic statements. It’s how we’re encouraged to think – marketing messages drive us to believe that if we don’t buy a new car, a bigger house, an even more exotic holiday, that we’ll feel unhappy or that we’ve failed.
It’s not wrong to have big ideas. We all need those to propel us forward and to feel as if we have an objective and purpose behind our work and money. But chasing these at the expense of the smaller pleasures in life is a mistake.
I realise this as I cook
Over the past few weeks I’ve been perfecting my roast potato technique and I’m pretty happy with it now. If you’d told me this would have been my big achievement for 2020 in January, of course I would have laughed. But actually, I’ve found great pleasure in this.
My goals used to be much bigger – for example, I’ve always wanted to be to be able to travel first class everywhere. But I now realise the effort required to get to that stage would inevitably include sacrifices along the way - time with family for example so that I could work longer hours. Less time in the kitchen on a Sunday listening to my favourite team.
There’s a big difference between happiness and contentment
A nice car. A big house. Better wine. These are amazing commodities that many of us would love to have in our lives … but at what cost? And where will it end? Or will it ever end? Will we always want more?
The answer is probably yes. In fact, most definitely yes.
Instead, I think we have a once-in-a-lifetime chance with the pandemic to really think about value and what makes happy, especially if we reframe it as ‘What makes us most content?’
Because if we find the answer to that, then we’ll always have happiness, and the rest will be a bonus. But more importantly, we’ll then be much more in tune and aligned with those bigger picture goals because they’re simply an extension of our contentment – an added layer.
If we look at what makes us happy now, it can also take the pressure of chasing big dreams and happiness in the future, which are sometimes so unconnected to what we truly want that they become distracting
Life is short, but we live fast. At the moment I’m trying to live for the moment. I don’t need to be with 40,000 other mad Aston Villa fans in an atmospheric stadium to be happy or content (although it would be nice). Right now, all I need is a glass of wine and people to cook for, with the radio on. That’s contentment for me.
From now on, before I ask people about their big goals for the future, I’ll ask them what’s making them happy now – because all the clues we need will be contained in that answer.