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The disappointment of arrival

“Be careful what you wish for”, so the saying goes. What if you get what you hoped for – the job, the girl, the guy, the car, the medal, the rest, the retirement, the inheritance… will you be satisfied?

In a recent online article, Harvard psychologist Dr Tal Ben-Shahar identifies what he describes as the “arrival fallacy”.

It relates to the human quest for relief and contentment in achieving some long-desired goal. The belief is that reaching this objective will finally make everything in life fall into place.

But, according to Ben-Shahar, what actually happens is that we experience the “arrival fallacy”. The accomplished ambition fails to provide the expected contentment in the long term – maybe even very quickly. He writes:

“We quickly become adjusted to our new position in the pecking order and arriving at one goal usually uncovers another. Essentially, there’s always one new box to tick.”

This is not a new idea. About a hundred a fifty years ago the author and inventor Robert Louis Stevenson said “to travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”.

Much longer ago, in the Bible, King Solomon wrote about how he denied himself nothing – every pleasure, every worthy project, was pursued with great vigour:

“I denied myself nothing my eyes desired;
    I refused my heart no pleasure.
My heart took delight in all my labour,
    and this was the reward for all my toil.
Yet when I surveyed all that my hands had done
    and what I had toiled to achieve,
everything was meaningless, a chasing after the wind;
    nothing was gained under the sun.”
(Ecclesiastes 2:10-11)

Elsewhere he says,

“Whoever loves money never has enough;
    whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with their income.
 This too is meaningless.”
(Ecclesiastes 5:10)

As with pleasure, so with money. We hope; we achieve – and it is ultimately disappointing.

But there is no need to despair. Hope is the voice that tells us that there is something more. Hope is the appetite for eternal satisfaction that God has placed in our hearts; we long for something more because there really is something more.

However, the object of our hope will never be found in ourselves or in the created world around us. It is found only in God. And he loved us so much that he sent his one and only Son so that we might have a fully-realised – and never-fading – hope as we experience eternal life with him.

So use your sense of discontentment to fix your hope on God.

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