I used to get a lot more excited about goals that I set for myself than I do now. Now, I’ve grown to mistrust any kind of concrete goal to such an extent that, believe it or not, I still haven’t written down my New Years Resolutions for 2011 even though I fully intend to at some point (I like to tell myself).
This week, I’ve been reading Dave Goetz’s Death by Suburb, a study of how to improve a suburbanite’s “spirituality”. In his chapter titled “Inside Space”, Goetz discusses this idea of goal futility.
Not to echo here the disillusionment of Ecclesiastes (you know, “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity”) but it seems impossibly hard to correlate happiness with goal achievement. The suburbs are a great illustration of this idea.
The suburban environment is one where individuals are cloistered into safe and sanitary housing units where each person creates goals, capitalizes on the abundant opportunities available, and then amasses the spoils of his labor in the form of goods or social status. It’s almost the epitome of “the good life”. And yet almost anyone who actually experiences this kind of lifestyle will feel some sort of dissatisfaction with goal achievement.
The new car just doesn’t seem so satisfying a few months after the purchase (but how much work went into affording it). The mansion seems a lot better as an idea than as a reality. Yes, the friends will be impressed, but why do I need to lord it (or anything) over them? And what do I admire about the thing itself – the spaciousness, the beauty of the woodwork and wall colors and flooring? The outdoors are spacious too and there are much more beautiful buildings to be seen in the city. I must just want to possess this immensity and this beauty as my own.
And yet these goals require so much – perhaps, all – of our work capacity to fulfill. For someone like me who always needs a plan to feel at ease with himself, it’s maddening that the things that really matter to us – love, vocation, relationships – we can’t really achieve by setting any kind of goals. Goetz thinks that relinquishing control and embracing silence can help a suburbanite find the peace of mind of which the achievement race robs us. I don’t know about this; I just think it’s maddening that we can’t goal-orient towards happiness.