The arrival fallacy refers to the idea that reaching a specific goal or milestone will result in lasting happiness and fulfillment. The fallacy is that we believe that achieving a specific outcome or status will lead to a permanent state of contentment.
In reality, happiness is fleeting, and even after achieving a specific goal, physicians (like all people) may find themselves unsatisfied and yearning for more.
The origins of the arrival fallacy can be traced back to the concept of the hedonic treadmill, which refers to the idea that people constantly strive for more, but ultimately return to a baseline level of happiness.
The best example of this is the study on the happiness levels of big lottery winners. After a period of joy, their happiness usually returns to baseline. In some cases, too much money brings heartache, and their happiness levels are worse than before winning!
The hedonic treadmill suggests that humans are always chasing the next goal or milestone, believing that achieving it will bring lasting happiness. However, once the goal is achieved, the initial sense of euphoria wears off, and individuals return to their baseline level of happiness. This cycle continues indefinitely, with individuals always searching for the next high.
The arrival fallacy is an extension of the hedonic treadmill, specifically focused on the belief that achieving a specific outcome or status will lead to permanent happiness and fulfilment. The fallacy is rooted in the idea that happiness is a destination rather than a journey, and that once a specific goal is achieved, individuals can finally rest and enjoy the fruits of their labor. However, the reality is far more complex, and individuals may find themselves feeling unfulfilled and yearning for more, even after achieving a major milestone.
“Treadmill” is a pretty accurate description of a conventional medical career. The problem with this thinking is that it fails to recognize that life is a continuous journey, and that there will always be new challenges and obstacles to overcome even after a particular goal is reached.
The arrival fallacy is a relatively recent concept in psychology, and it is difficult to attribute its discovery to a single person. However, the concept is often attributed to Tal Ben-Shahar, a professor of positive psychology and leadership at Harvard University.
In his book “Happier: Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment,” Ben-Shahar describes the arrival fallacy as the belief that achieving a specific outcome or status will lead to permanent happiness and fulfillment.
He argues that this belief is a common trap that individuals fall into, and that it can contribute to a sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction, even after achieving major milestones.
The arrival fallacy can be particularly relevant in the context of a medical career, where individuals often have a clear path to success and achievement. Medical school and residency programs provide a structured path for individuals to follow, with clear goals and milestones along the way. Many individuals enter the medical profession with the expectation that achieving these goals will lead to a life of success and fulfillment.
However, the reality of a medical career can often be far more complex and challenging than anticipated. Physicians face long hours, high levels of stress, and constant pressure to perform at their best. They may also struggle with burnout, compassion fatigue, and mental health issues related to their work.
In many cases, the pressure to achieve success and fulfill the expectations of the profession can contribute to a sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction, even after reaching major milestones.
For example, a physician may spend years working towards a specific promotion or achieving a leadership role within their organization. However, upon reaching this goal, they may find that the reality of the job is far less satisfying than they anticipated. They may be forced to navigate complex organizational politics, manage difficult team dynamics, and make difficult decisions that impact the lives of others. Despite achieving a major milestone, they may find themselves feeling unfulfilled and yearning for more.
Moreover, when physicians invest so much of their time, energy, and focus on achieving certain goals or milestones, they may neglect other areas of their life that are equally important for their overall well-being, such as their physical health, relationships, and hobbies.
Finally, the arrival fallacy can also contribute to a culture of perfectionism within medicine, where physicians feel like they have to constantly strive for excellence in everything they do, even if it means sacrificing their own well-being in the process.
This can lead to a sense of disillusionment and disappointment when physicians realize that even after achieving a particular goal, they still feel unfulfilled or unhappy
In Part 1 we have explored how the “Arrival Fallacy”, a concept attributed to Tal Ben-Shahar, a Harvard professor of positive psychology, relates to medicine.
In Part 2 we link the fallacy to poor mental health among physicians and discover 5 steps to tackle the arrival fallacy in ourselves.