Category Archives: Goal Setting

Stop Setting Goals That Don’t Make You Happy

If you want my thoughts on psychological mismatch theory, there’s still no replacement for this piece from 2012.

Stop Setting Goals That Don’t Make You Happy

If I could enforce a “required reading” list for this blog, that essay would be on it. As would the piece on mapping self-conscious thought: Self-Conscious Thought In The Modern World.


God and Money

God and money are both proxies. As humans we have some fundamental needs. We need food, shelter, safety, and sex. And we also need the esteem of others, a sense of purpose, autonomy, a sense of being able to contribute to our tribes with skills and knowledge valued by the tribe, and so on.

If we are running low on several of these needs at once, we suffer.

If we are suffering, we can try to meet each of our needs separately. But that can be a long, tedious, and uncertain road. As a result, we find ourselves attracted to shortcuts — some one thing perhaps that can help us meet several of those needs at once.

One promising shortcut is money. If we have a lot of money, people will assume we must be good at something. They will want to associate with us. And we can tell people where to put it if they want to threaten our autonomy.

Another promising shortcut is a good relationship with God. If we can manage that, people in our group will have to respect us, our values will become aligned with the values of others within the group, which will increase our sense of autonomy (because their expectations will match our aspirations), people are more likely to share resources with us, and we’ll often enjoy the moral high ground.

Each of these shortcuts come with problems.

Money is typically more difficult to make than people believe. Those who have money tend to have no idea how lucky they have been, and wind up telling others it’s easier than it is. As a result people can chase it for many years or decades and still fall well short of their goals. Meanwhile their real needs go unmet.

Religious communities typically worship a God who requires individuals to suppress some needs in order to satisfy others. This can work out resonably well for an individual (with some frustration), as long as belief in God is maintained. But when the spell dissolves, the repressed needs can assert themselves with a vengeance. Religious communities are often fiercely tribal, too, creating an us vs them dynamic that pits believers against outsiders in many ways.

As individuals, it’s probably a good policy to try to meet our basic needs more directly, and less by proxy. If you are tending to your basic needs, and you also find a way to make and save a lot of money, great. It will be that much easier. But if making money proves elusive, at least you won’t go your whole life deferring satisfaction of your true needs.

As a society we should pursue policies that will allow people to better meet their needs directly, and not only by proxy. One of the problems of Capitalism as a religion (and not just as an economic model) is that it encourages us to defer our basic needs until the day which we have proved our worthiness by making a lot of money. At that point only can we have autonomy, demonstrated competence, and voice.

On average serving proxies without also tending to one’s basic needs more directly will turn out to be a raw deal.