After a bad week at work, have you ever daydreamed about the good place—that utopian environment where the boss hails your brilliance, peers worship your leadership, and lattes flow like Niagara Falls? This fantasy is only natural… so let’s play it out.
You quit your job for a new opportunity. You’re now earning a bit more money and your ego is stroked because, out of an impressive pool of candidates, they chose you.
The first few weeks are great. Everyone is helpful, friendly, and more than willing to get you get up to speed. But then reality sets in. You have to prove yourself. You have deadlines. You are accountable for objectives. With time, the job you left feels less and less distinct from the job you now have, and the good place daydreams begin again.
What happened? Was the good place a mirage? Did the new employer trick us by waving a falsely positive facade? Or was it our fault. Maybe the allure of the unknown was intoxicating. After all, what’s more exciting than the untested promise, enticing prospects, and general excitement stemming from “newness.” We call this the Good Place Effect.
Named for the television show The Good Place, the Good Place Effect is the idea that <spoiler alert> even a heavenly locale can quickly become the contrary. The leaders you once saw as angels are now demons, and the people who you thought were specially selected to be there are just as flawed as everyone else.
In truth, the grass is rarely greener. Research shows we tend to overestimate how happy we’ll be in a new environment. In one study, psychologist Daniel Kahneman found that Midwesterners expected residents of Southern California to be happier when actually, both groups ranked themselves the same in overall life satisfaction. Kahneman calls this a focusing illusion: Easily observed and distinctive differences between locations are given more weight in such judgments than they will have in reality.
Another reason for the Good Place Effect is that we tend to underestimate the social capital that comes with being in a job for a longer tenure. It takes time for place attachment—the feeling of being emotionally bonded—to develop. Extensive research has shown that place attachment and social capital are key indicators in predicting happiness. It’s how we form trusting relationships, build credibility, and construct social cohesion. And it is reliant upon accumulated years of interacting.
I’m not suggesting you stay in a horrible workplace; of course there are toxic environments with toxic leaders. I am suggesting that in most circumstances, leaving should not be your go-to response. There are too many in the workforce who are career good place seekers (i.e, job hoppers). I was recently at a conference where the speaker stated that the average tenure at a job is 1½ years. That’s barely enough time to learn how to get to the breakroom, let alone see a project to completion or learn any marketable skills that can help you in your next role.
Don’t fall victim to the Good Place Effect. Leaving a solid position with a respectable organization and decent people for the unknown is not a guaranteed path to happiness. Sure, it will give you a short-term bump, but unless you determine what you truly want from your career, your discontent will continue to resurface. Take it from someone who has experienced bouts of skepticism, the good place exists; you just need some introspection to get there.