Goals Make Us Happier

At three or four I realized life was full of possibilities.  Thank you, Maurice Sendak. I was sidled up to my mother who was turning the pages of Chicken Soup with Rice: a Book of Months, one of a four-book collection that was scaled perfectly to fit in the sticky palms of weensy people. The premise of the story is this:

Each Month is gay,
each season nice,
when eating chicken soup with rice.

When my mother turned to September, our young hero (who will become Max by the time Sendak writes Where the Wild Things Are) is riding on a crocodile on the “chicken soupy Nile,” with a pyramid in the background, something I’d never seen before. I asked, “what’s that?” and determined that day that someday I’d go to see the pyramids. 

At 21, after saving my waitressing tips for many years, I stood in the sand under the burning glare of the sun, and wept. I was here. Cheops, the largest of the Egyptian pyramids, in front of me, with the beautiful, dusty, yellow sphinx just over there. 

I traveled for several more months after that and finally returned home elated with so many adventures stuffing my heart full. But after some weeks, I felt strangely empty. And then adrift. And then I felt positively depressed. I’d go on to experience this again in my life: the time I quit my stressful job—at last! Woo hoo! So how come I felt so bad? Hadn't I wanted this? The time I built my dream house. Wait, what? How many people get to build a house, let alone one that fits their dream? 

It turns out that having goals make us happy. (You can tweet that!)

Large goals. Small goals. Have one. Have several. Have them in succession, most importantly. Our goals don't have to make the earth shake. But they do have to be relevant to you. Maybe your goal is to drink more cups of water in a day. Or to exercise four days a week. But maybe it’s to get to Rome to eat a slice of pizza. 

The point is: being aimless—not having a goal—eats away at people’s well-being.

Here’s what goals do for us:

  1. They organize our time 
  2. They give us a yard stick for measuring our own success
  3. They help us make decisions—as this becomes our focal point 
  4. They help us focus our resources (emotional, social, financial)
  5. They help us enact our values
  6. They reinforce our sense of identity
  7. They create optimism and forward thinking because we see ourselves as being effective in our life—and judge ourselves favorably

When forming a goal, consider this: some goals are actually counterproductive to happiness: ones that are materialistic, ones where we seek to prove we’re right, ones where we seek power over other people. 

Goals that make us happiest? The ones that keep giving—to us, to others, that generate new and better ideas and things; those that are legacy-oriented (what we leave behind), or those that are pro-social (behaviors that benefit others).

So tell me, what’s your experience of having a goal? Got one now? Go ahead, post it below. I’d love to know.