A lesson from Harry Potter on happiness
Something resonated with me as I finished another chapter in the final book of the series: The Deathly Hallows.
Harry, Ron, and Hermoine have just completed a suspenseful, dangerous mission. Their goal was to steal a Horcrux: a locket containing a piece of Voldemort’s soul, the story’s antagonist.
After barely making it out alive with the Horcrux, they set up camp to plot their next move. Harry’s emotions at this moment provide a valuable lesson.
“He had thought that he would feel elated if they managed to steal back the Horcrux, but somehow he did not; all he felt as he sat looking out at the darkness, of which his wand lit only a tiny part, was worry about what would happen next. It was as though he had been hurtling toward this point for weeks, months, maybe even years, but now he had come to an abrupt halt, run out of road.
There were other Horcruxes out there somewhere, but he did not have the faintest idea where they could be. He did not even know what all of them were. Meanwhile he was at a loss to know how to destroy the only one they had found, the Horcrux that currently lay against the bare flesh of his chest.”
In other words, you can accomplish your biggest, baddest goal…solve the most complicated problem on your plate right now…and the only guarantee is that you’ll now have different problems to solve.
This isn’t to say you shouldn’t pursue your goals. The point is to step away from the mindset that “Once I do or accomplish x, then I’ll be good.”
But you’re never “good.” You can certainly be better, but the work never stops.
If you win an Oscar—regardless of the euphoria and elation you feel giving your acceptance speech in front of the all-stars of Hollywood—eventually, your speech will end and you’ll be escorted offstage. You’ll give a few interviews, chat it up with Leo or Meryl, and go home.
The feeling of being an Oscar winner will surely stay with you for a short while, but for how long?
Soon you’ll have to find your next role. You’ll have to parent your kids. You’ll have to get back into your exercise routine. Life doesn’t just stop when you achieve something brilliant. Cancer or stress or relationships…these things don’t give a shit about your little golden trophy.
When we put all of our self-worth into accomplishing certain things, we feel a natural ache as that good feeling dissipates.
There’s a way around this.
If instead, you become fully aware and prepared for the short-term nature of these victories, you will be able to appreciate them and move on.
I doubt you’ll be hunting down jewelry with your enemy’s soul in it any time soon. But consider this the next time you put a ton of value in accomplishing something.
Appreciate buying a house. Then, prepare yourself for the HOA, mortgage adjustments, renovations…
Appreciate your new job. Then, prepare yourself for new coworkers, a new routine, different responsibilities…
Appreciate your increased income. Then, prepare yourself for taxes, lifestyle creep, greed…
The problems never stop. They just lead to different problems. Keep solving them.
Fiction books and sitcoms are lovely. But they end at the resolution. They never show us what happens after.
Once Harry defeats Voldemort, I reckon he’ll need to find a job.