The Atlantic

Stop Keeping Score

She who dies with the most checked boxes wins, right? Wrong.
Source: Jan Buchczik

How to Build a Lifeis a column by Arthur Brooks, tackling questions of meaning and happiness. Starting today, the column will be published weekly on Thursday mornings.


I am an inveterate scorekeeper. I can go back decades and find lists of goals I set for myself to gauge “success” by certain milestone birthdays. For example, in my 20s, I had a to-do list for the decade, the items on which more or less told the story of a penniless musician who had made some dubious choices. It included quitting smoking, going to the dentist, mastering my pentatonic scales, and finishing college. (I hit them all, although the last one mere days before my 30th birthday.)

There is nothing unusual about this tendency to keep score. Google “30 things to a few years ago that people are naturally motivated toward performance goals related to round numbers, and in particular can often act as landmarks to motivate self-improvement. We naturally seek outside sources of quantitative evidence of our progress and effectiveness—and, thus, our happiness.

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