The following story is excerpted from TIME’s special edition, The Science of Happiness, which is available at Amazon.
Whether you’re a web designer, teacher, fire-fighter or Army officer, you are encouraged to keep checking things off the to-do list, amassing accomplishments and focusing your efforts on the future. There’s always something more you can do to further yourself at work: an extra project or responsibility you can take on, more schooling you can complete to ensure a promotion, or an additional investment to wager on just in case. There’s always that co-worker who is putting in longer hours, showing you that you too can and should do more. And so you strive nonstop to exceed your goals, constantly playing catch-up with your ambitious to-do list.
Why? Because you live by the faulty theory that if you want to succeed, you need to continually be getting things done and moving on to the next goal as quickly as possible. Your mind is always on the next task, the next accomplishment, the next person you need to talk to. In the process, you sacrifice the present—forgoing personal happiness, enduring negative feelings and tremendous stress—because you believe the eventual payoff is worth it. As a consequence, you get caught up in frantic and anxious workaholism. You may find yourself asking, “What am I doing right now to help reach my future goals?” If you’re not asking yourself this question, then your manager, partner or colleagues probably are. And if your answer is “nothing,” you may feel bad. Thus the need to constantly be doing something to improve yourself.
You’re caught up in the compulsion to constantly achieve, always adding meat to your bio and feathers to your cap. You haven’t finished one task before your mind is on to the next one. You work hard to clear things off your to-do list and then immediately fill it up again. You might be working on a presentation or article, but your mind is already on the topic you will cover in the next one. Even at home you might be doing dishes, but your mind is making a mental list of other chores you need to tackle.