07/25/2014 03:09 pm ET Updated Sep 24, 2014

The Yellow Brick Road of Happiness: It's in the Journey


Hi, my name is Prasanna and I am a destination addict.

This is a longstanding, perhaps lifelong condition, and in my experience, one of the biggest barriers to my true happiness. No, destination addiction is not a Carmen Sandiego-esque need to travel and explore the world (I wish!). Rather, according to the work of Dr. Robert Holden, Director of the Happiness Project, destination addiction refers to how we have convinced ourselves we have to reach a certain goal in order to be happy. If I just get through this assignment in school, I will be happy. If I purchase this car or this house or this outfit, I will be happy. If I can find a new job, then my happiness is assured. If only I find love, my heart will be filled with happiness forever.

What many have discovered, and what I have glimpses of from time to time, is that lasting happiness is virtually impossible when it is tied to arriving at a destination. In fact, when you really think about it, destination addiction not only reduces your happiness to a future destination, it limits it to the seconds or minutes in which you reach that destination. My mantra of "I will be happy if I get a new job," brings me happiness at the moment I receive the job offer, but immediately afterwards, I am overwhelmed by a new series of worries: Do I have to move? How will I find a new place? Will my colleagues like me? Will I be good enough at the job? What if they find out they made a mistake in hiring me? In fact, arrival at the destination simply serves as the catalyst to alight the longing anew -- this time substituting the previously intended destination for a new one. What I find so frustrating is that I have wasted so much time looking forward to finding happiness, instead of realizing that I could choose to live in a space of happiness as I moved forward in life. Talk about racking up the emotional air miles.

A further challenge I face in combatting destination addiction relates to the importance I place on setting goals. We have all been taught that setting goals is important work that inspires us to dig deep and move with purpose towards the life of our dreams. The question is: when does the positive, empowering energy found in goal-setting turn into the corrosive destination addiction that robs life of its daily meaning and beauty?

I think the distinction is captured perfectly in the classic saying: "it's about the journey, not the destination." The true joy of finding our purpose and living our dreams is not found in only the achievement of a specific objective but the process by which we arrive at it. Sure, if the goal is to be rich, winning the lottery today might be far preferable to years of careful, dedicated work on a project that yields great financial success. However, if the goal is to find success by developing something meaningful, engaging our creativity, or harnessing our skills, lottery winnings, no matter how sweet in the short term, won't bring the lasting sense of fulfillment for which we yearn.

As a child who would constantly badger my parents on road trips with the shrill, "Are we there yet?" to my current foot-tapping, 140-character-conditioned persona that is constantly waiting for something to happen, it is sometimes difficult to distinguish positive goals from a need for speedy results in a never-ending escalation of wants and desires.

Furthermore, we live in a culture of instant celebrity where for many the need to be famous is the end goal. However, instant celebrity is illusory at best. The people who are achieving at the highest echelons of success and maintain longstanding celebrity (not notoriety) have historically put in years of work to be where they are. It was not magic. It's just that what we see in the public sphere is the celebration of success, without the corresponding understanding of or respect for the work that led to the achievement of this success. This misguided focus only serves to perpetuate destination addiction.

Part of destination addiction is tied, in my view, to our tendency to see life as a runaway train taking us from station to station, success to success, job to job, achievement to achievement. This breakneck pace of life has barely given us time to breathe. Maria Shriver said it best in her 2012 University of Southern California Commencement address, when she encouraged graduates not to be bound by societal pressures to immediately find a job or embark on a new project, but to embrace the power of the pause.

Thankfully, we are ever so slowly shifting the paradigm of success, looking at our destination addiction and its impact on our health and well-being, pausing and appreciating the world in which we live, and knowing that true success is not simply the achievement of an external goal but the robust enjoyment of internal majesty. Having been raised in a loving, spiritual household, it is only now, as an adult where I truly see the benefits of what my parents taught me all along: happiness is not the reward for hard work, but a choice to be in tune with our natural state of being. Being happy is found in forging a connection to our authentic spirits, in our alignment with a higher purpose, and in being of service to others.

My best friend Audrey (a fellow destination addict) and I often discuss our shared inclination to tie ourselves up in knots by tying our happiness to something in the future. So. Many. Knots. We have become each other's accountability partners: when we become aware of being ensnared in the tentacles of destination addiction, we make efforts to be more conscious of the blessings around us at that very moment. A daily gratitude practice, be it writing in a gratitude journal or sending out daily thank you emails/texts to people who have made my day better, has helped me in this regard. I have found that what I focus on, both good and bad, expands and regular reminders of the need to pause, reflect, and appreciate the good create a space in which happiness flourishes rather than languishes.

At the end of the day, it's all in the journey. That is the sweet spot. That is where true happiness lies.

Have you ever struggled with destination addiction? If so, where did you want to go? How did you feel when you got there? What do you do to be happy in the present moment? Share with me in the comments section below.