When I was in college, I learned a term in my psychology class that stuck with me: “fictional finalisms.” Since I have become a therapist, this term has become even more relevant because it describes a faulty belief system that so many of us hold. In simple terms, fictional finalisms means we believe that once we attain a particular goal in our life that we have been striving to achieve, then everything will be “all better” and we won’t have anything else to worry about. In metaphorical terms, it’s as though you are on a train, waiting for the final train station because you believe that when you arrive there, you will finally be happy, achieve inner peace, be stress free, etc. – because it is where you’ve always wanted to be.
There are several things wrong with this way of thinking. First, as many of us reach milestones in our life -- such as graduating from school, getting married, landing that perfect job or finally moving out of our parent’s house -- we then realize that with each one gained, there is another level of challenges and obstacles we need to face. Secondly, when we are so focused on the “final destination,” we dismiss the importance of the journey and all the beautiful scenery and possible personal growth we can gain along the way. As Miley Cyrus’ song “It’s the Climb” illustrates (sorry to quote such a controversial celebrity, but I love the song), it isn’t finally reaching the top of the mountain that’s the point of life, but the journey along the way.
Instead of focusing on the final destination as the answer to our happiness, one of the only ways I believe we can achieve that inner peace and reach a place of contentment in our life is to lower our expectations and not be attached to a particular outcome. We cannot control what the Universe decides to throw at us, so ultimately it’s not WHAT happens to us but HOW we handle it.
There is a Spiritual book I recommend called, When Things Fall Apart by Pema Chodron that explains this concept really well. Basically the author says that we cling to “babysitters” in the desperate hope that certain thing or person will fill the void and make us finally feel secure in such an unpredictable world. She goes on to explain that we have to let go of the belief that we will find reassurance outside of ourselves and instead look within to discover our inner peace.
My message here is not to say that you shouldn’t have goals or be proud of your achievements. It’s just a reminder that it is not healthy or helpful to base all of our happiness and sense of self-worth on reaching a final outcome. On the other hand, learning to identify and be grateful for the daily successes, living in the moment, and trusting and going with the flow are focuses that will help you to maneuver through life more enjoyably and gracefully.