“The trail is the thing, not the end of the trail. Travel too fast and you miss all that you are traveling for.” Louis L’Amour
I had this Louis L’Amour quote in my email signature for years because it epitomizes an important lesson I needed to reiterate to myself, over and over.
I’m a destination kind of girl. Just ask my husband. Sometimes he doesn’t like hiking trails with me because I must get to the end of the trail come hell or high water! It doesn’t matter if it’s getting dark or it’s raining, or even hailing, I am a finisher. This persistence has historically served me well in personal and professional pursuits, but focusing too much on the destination has often detracted me from the importance of the journey itself.
It’s easy to get distracted by the destination. I mean, the destination is the whole point of journeying whatever path we’ve chosen in the first place right? I pursued graduate school to get the PhD! When our perspective is that the destination is the point, we often believe that the destination (whether that be academic achievement, a certain employment, a promotion or advancement, a home, a spouse, children and white picket fence) is the thing that will ultimately make us happy. We have adopted a belief system that we will be happy when we get x, or achieve y.
However, the reality is that our circumstances and achievements in life account for very little of our overall well-being. In fact, in the book, The How of Happiness, author and researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky, reviews the literature on what factors in our life really bring happiness. She concludes, from the research, that our circumstances and achievements account for only 10% of our overall happiness!
The other 90% of the happiness pie is divided into Genetic Set Point and Intentional Activities. That means that our genes account for about 50% of our happiness or well-being, and the remaining 40% is the intentional activities we engage in. Another way to think about those intentional activities is to consider them as the pursuit.
As Lyubomirksy points out in her book, “People who strive for something personally significant, whether it’s learning a new craft, changing careers, or raising moral children, are far happier than those who don’t have strong dreams or aspirations. Find a happy person, and you will find a project.”
One of the reasons I value the AMW community is this dedicated space to share and celebrate our dreams and aspirations. The definition of “aspiring” is “directing one’s hopes or ambitions toward becoming a specified type of person.” (emphasis added). The very definition of the word emphasizes the journey we are on, in our various goal pursuits.
Recognizing and embracing the value and importance of the journey, instead of the destination, opens us up to greater depth of feeling, greater joy, greater confidence in our perseverance, greater meaning in the connections we make with others along the way, and makes us more receptive to the priceless lessons available to learn as we take steps toward our dreams. When I attended Especially for Youth in 1998, the Theme was “Joy in the Journey.” We also see this catch phrase printed on inspirational wall mountings and cards. As cliché as it might be, the truth rings: It is in the journey that we will find our joy, our meaning, even ourselves. Let’s pause and remember to breathe in our journeys, so that, as Louis L’Amour says, we won’t miss “all that [we] are traveling for.”
Anna received her PhD in clinical psychology in 2010 and is a licensed psychologist working in private practice in Utah at Balance Health and Healing. Anna is also an adjunct professor at BYU where she is currently teaching Introduction to Positive Psychology. She is the mother of three (two daughters aged 7 and 3, and a son in heaven) and is expecting another baby boy early this summer.