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Misconceptions

10 Life Goals That Aren’t Nearly As Awesome As You’d Think

Morris M.


Whether it’s to score the winning touchdown of the Super Bowl or summit Mount Everest, most of us dream of one day doing something totally amazing. But there’s a big difference between having a dream and living it. In some cases, realizing your life goals might be less an idle daydream and more a screaming nightmare.

10Winning The Lottery Will Suck The Joy From Your Life

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The lottery has such a low chance of winning that it’s often called a tax on stupid people, yet millions of us still play, hoping for that golden ticket. But we’ve got some bad news for you. Getting that golden ticket could ruin your ability to get any pleasure from life.

In a famous 1970s study, psychologists interviewed Illinois state lottery winners and non-winners and found that the winners were not significantly happier than the ordinary Joes. The winners found it hard to get pleasure from everyday things in life. According to the study, the winners “took significantly less pleasure” in things like chatting with a friend, getting a compliment, or reading a magazine.

According to NBC, this may be because a big lottery win pushes up our baseline level of happiness. We need continuously bigger thrills to feel any pleasure at all. At the same time, when winning doesn’t make us as happy as we expect it to, we feel depressed.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom. A separate Harvard study found that those who win an annual payout are much happier than those who win a single lump sum.



9Becoming An Olympic Silver Medalist Will Make You Weirdly Unhappy

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Winning an Olympic medal is the closest you can get to proving you are objectively better at something than everyone else on Earth. While most of us might dream of winning gold, we’d probably be equally ecstatic with silver or bronze, in that order. But actual winners would disagree. Far from proof of awesomeness, an Olympic silver medal is frequently seen as a sign of abject failure.

In 1992, researchers studied the reactions of winning athletes at the Barcelona Olympics. They then assigned each athlete a “happiness score” ranging from 1 (agony) to 10 (ecstasy). While the gold medal winners generally scored quite highly, the silver medal winners ranked appallingly. When the winners were announced, they scored an average of 4.8, compared to the bronze medalists’ 7.1.

This is thanks to our human trait of thinking counterfactually. Rather than accepting coming in second, the silver medalists tended to obsess over the tiny mistakes that kept them from winning gold. The bronze medalists, on the other hand, marveled over the tiny victories that kept them from being fourth. This boosted their self-esteem and made them measurably happier than the athlete who beat them.

8Moving Abroad Can Ruin Your Family

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Unlike winning the lottery or becoming an Olympic athlete, moving abroad is a realistic dream. Millions of people each year migrate and call it the best decision of their lives. Just as many call it an utter nightmare.

Moving to a foreign culture can strain marriages. Such a move typically involves one partner becoming the breadwinner while the other stays home, stressing out the worker and making the homemaker feel useless. When young children are involved, things get even worse. A 1990 study found that 40 percent of all foreign assignments are cut short, usually because the family fails to adjust.

Even when parents and young kids thrive abroad, older kids can have a hard time. A study into American teenagers living overseas found the adolescents had less self-confidence, greater insecurity about the future, and fewer interpersonal relationships than those who stayed in the US.

It’s not just Americans, either. A 2014 study found that northern Europeans who moved to sunny Spain were on average less happy than those who stayed put. Moving abroad might be a dream come true for some, but it’s no guaranteed path to happiness.



7Making Billions From Your Company Can Lead To Depression

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In the late 1990s, a striking number of dotcom billionaires reacted to their financial success by becoming incredibly depressed. Although there are many theories on why this might be, chief among them is the idea that humans need a sense of progress in their lives. Remove that forward momentum, and people start to feel useless and unhappy. And there’s no better way to destroy someone’s forward momentum than by having them achieve all their business goals and become rich before they finish their third decade.

The technical name for this is wealth fatigue syndrome, and it translates to living your life in a permanent state of boredom and isolation. A huge number of people who become wealthy through business sink into inertia. They also find themselves socially isolated from everyone but their super-rich compatriots, separating themselves from former friends and family members.

Instead, it’s better to have your business do moderately well and then move yourself to your next goal rather than become an overnight billionaire.

6Becoming CEO Can Leave You Horribly Stressed

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Have you ever had one of those days where the policies of your company seemed so ridiculous that you knew you could do better? Have you ever wondered what would happen if you suddenly were promoted to CEO? If you were, you’d probably be more stressed than you could possibly handle.

Many top CEOs lead lives of desperation. Although psychopathy is the most infamous trait a well-paid boss can have, others include white-hot anger, paralyzing fear, and depression. A study of data collected between 1957 and 2004 found that women in positions of authority were more likely to exhibit depressive symptoms than those in subordinate roles.

CEOs of both sexes frequently feel incredibly isolated and under pressure, with the added bonus that corporate culture makes talking about these feelings a big no-no. The result, especially in the finance industries, can be burnout, overwhelming health problems, or even suicide. You might feel bored working in your cubicle, but get moved up to the top spot, and you could be facing a complete emotional collapse.

5Getting Pregnant Could Hurt Your Employment Prospects

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For some, there’s no greater goal than settling down with the partner of their dreams and popping out a group of kids to carry on the family name. Everyone talks about the joy of motherhood. What they often leave out is the part where you become less employable.

According to a 2014 report, career women who plan to get pregnant are likely to find themselves demoted, forced to take unpaid leave, or even fired. That same year, Walmart made the sort of headlines PR firms have nightmares about by effectively suspending a woman in the middle of a dangerous pregnancy. Although that’s an extreme example, plenty of other companies still consider pregnancy to be alarmingly close to redundancy. A UK study recently revealed that half of all pregnant women felt they had been discriminated against, with 30,000 claiming to have been forced out of their jobs.

Even once you’ve had your kid, the problems may not be over. Studies have shown that career women who become mothers lose as much as 5 percent of their wage for every child they have. Having a child might be wonderful for your home life, but it could prove a disaster for your career.



4Becoming A College Athlete Is A Really Bad Idea

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Many high schoolers dream of getting a sports scholarship and becoming a college football star. For a lucky few, it really is a dream come true. For others, it’s a one-way ticket to sadness and social isolation.

A 2010 study found that college athletes devote 32 hours a week to their chosen sport. That’s nearly enough to qualify as a full-time job, and it comes on top of their studies and having to forge a new social life. Unsurprisingly, many wind up missing out on important life events and becoming isolated from anyone not on their team. When they then sustain an injury, they can find themselves locked out from training and effectively friendless.

Perhaps even worse is the culture of acute stress surrounding college-level sports. Many coaches favor a survival-of-the-fittest approach, leading to extreme overtraining, anxiety, burnout, and depression. As a result, athletes find themselves at a much higher risk of developing mental health problems than regular, non-sporty students. Eating disorders, alcoholism, and suicidal thoughts are common, and many players find it next to impossible to talk about their negative feelings with either their coach or teammates. Rather than being stars at the peak of their game, many college jocks are deeply in need of some TLC.

3Writing The Wrong Biography Could Leave You Bankrupt

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Photo credit: Bantam

For some people, nothing could be cooler than writing a best-selling biography of their heroes. People like Lincoln, Napoleon, and Malcolm X have had more books written about them than you could read in one lifetime. But there’s one historical figure you should never write about. According to the Freakonomics blog, penning a biography of Winston Churchill will almost certainly send you bankrupt.

Unlike the estates of many famous figures, the estate of Winston Churchill is very keen on copyright and very litigious. If you want to quote either Winston himself or any of his family in your book, you will have to pay a lot of money. One biographer recently reported paying 40 cents a word to quote Britain’s most famous Prime Minister; a figure that doesn’t include the licensing rights for any pictures you might want to include or photocopies of correspondence. Except in the rare instances where your Churchill book becomes a surprise best seller, you’ll very likely never make enough to cover these initial costs.

Nor is it just Churchill books that will set you back. Until the copyright on his work expired in 2012, the estate of James Joyce did everything humanly possible to make writing about their famous ancestor painfully expensive, including trying to sue an artist for simply memorizing a passage from Finnegans Wake. Martin Luther King’s children have brought lawsuits against people for reproducing his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, while William Faulkner’s estate once tried to sue Woody Allen for misquoting a mere 10 words from one of his novels.

2Country Living Has Been Linked To Depression

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For plenty of life-long city dwellers, nothing could be more desirable than to move to the country. Most of us sit in cramped apartments want nothing more than a slice of that beautiful, non-polluted pie.

At least, we think we do. The reality is we may wind up becoming clinically depressed. A recent University of Michigan study discovered that non-Hispanic white women who live in rural areas have “significantly higher rates of 12-month major depressive disorder and mood disorder” compared to white women living in urban areas. Interestingly, black women had the opposite outcome. Those living in urban areas were far more likely to become depressed than those living out in the country with their miserable white neighbors.

Although the study stopped short of explaining this strange state of affairs, the researchers did propose some possible reasons. While rural black women tend to have strong social networks, white rural women often feel lonely and overwhelmed with responsibilities. Add to this poor access to mental health treatment, and you have the perfect recipe for a rural breakdown.

1Life Deteriorates After Graduation

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Unlike many on this list, graduating is the one dream nearly everyone can achieve. It’s an important life step and the moment when you step out the protective bubble of education and into the real world, but for some people, it goes very poorly.

Graduate depression is a phenomenon that’s been around for decades. In most cases, it manifests itself as general listlessness and a feeling that life has no meaning. Outside the structured world of study, many graduates quickly discover that the universe doesn’t care if they succeed or fail. Transitioning from a place where support is always on hand and even the nastiest lecturer is expected to at least listen to your problems can therefore be a nightmare.

Although no official figures exist for the number of people who suffer from graduate depression, a survey for the UK’s Independent newspaper found that 95 percent of current undergrads surveyed believe it is a very real phenomenon that needs more exposure. Thanks to high unemployment rates in some industries and kids graduating tens of thousands of dollars in debt, mental health problems linked to graduation usually get even worse as time goes on.

Morris M.

Morris is a freelance writer and newly-qualified teacher, still naively hoping to make a difference in his students' lives. You can send your helpful and less-than-helpful comments to his email, or visit some of the other websites that inexplicably hire him.

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