Can Having Goals Make You Happy?

Kinda seems like a strange question, doesn’t it?

I think of goals as a way to insure I’m focusing on what’s important, chosing the right tasks to spend my time on. But it turns out there is research that shows goals can have alot to do with how happy we are, too.
Happy goals

To me, the two main points are these:

  1. Understanding exactly what it is in goal setting that affects our happiness, and
  2. Knowing which kind of goals can make us more happy.

First, the What

Your first thought might be that the way goals make us happy is by reaching them, right? What’s the point of grinding to run a marathon if we don’t actually run the race?

But it turns out that specific events don’t really have that much affect on our happiness, long term.

Research shows that we each have a “set point” for happiness, kind of like a thermostat setting. It may be higher for some, a little lower for others. We can do things to affect our set point, but it represents a “level” of happiness where each individual starts.

Specific events will generate temporary spikes in our happiness (such as getting a promotion, running your first 10k race or reaching a saving goal), but eventually Goals make you happy (and it doesn’t take too long) we tend to end up back at or near our set point.

What provides a more lasting impact on our happiness is the journey, the recurring process of doing something that’s meaningful to us, that moves us forward toward something we want, and ideally involves something we can enjoy doing.

That’s why many psychologists recommend that everyone have a bucket list” or life list, a list of things that are meaningful to you that you can focus your time and energy on achieving, experiencing or accomplishing. It’s not that the outcome won’t be good, just not necessarily long lasting. But the time spent on the journey keeps us in a good place, doing something that matters to us and in many cases changing who we are in the process.

Second, the Choice

We can look at goals a number of different ways, but when happiness is the subject, a useful way to categorize goals is “Intrinsic” vs. “Extrinsic”.

Intrinsic goals are those that we have chosen for ourselves, based on what’s meaningful in our lives. These are generally related to personal development or growth, life experiences, involvement with others, etc.

On the other hand, Extrinsic goals are things like buy a new car to impress your friends, or get elected to some position that you may not care that much about but you think will impress others. These types of goals don’t provide the satisfaction along the way that Intrinsic goals do, and the end result is not so rewarding either.

Studies show the pursuit of intrinsic goals is the way to go. They’ll leave you looking back on your life someday saying the time was well spent, rather than wasted on garnering the praise or approval of others.

Makes sense to me! 🙂

4 Responses to “Can Having Goals Make You Happy?”

  1. Ainy says:

    Time to face the music armed with this great ininomatfor.

  2. It’s like you’re on a mission to save me time and money!

  3. Superb information here, ol’e chap; keep burning the midnight oil.

  4. Paoo says:

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