How To Set Happiness Goals

Which way is your life headed?

Is it you, or someone else, who stands at the helm of your life’s boat and decides which way you navigate?

If it’s others who commandeer that boat, you can stop reading here.

But if it’s you who wields the freedom to decide where your life is heading, you can have one exciting ride.

Because you see, a large portion of your happiness and well-being depends on your ability to choose your life’s direction.

And who said that?


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Schmuck said that after he did a study along with Sheldon back in 2001.

set happiness goals
Dean Potter (1972 to 2015): Free climber. Alpinist. BASE jumper. Highliner.

What Goals Bring Happiness

Whatever direction you take, you have to have goals that promise you your best possible future self. These goals, you call them your life goals – or core goals – are like the lighthouse beacons that direct your boat.

How do you choose these goals?

Specific: how do you choose these goals so that they give you the best shot at happiness?

  • First, you’ve to know for sure what those goals are.
  • Second, you’ve to know why you’re to go after them.
  • Third, you’ve to make sure your goals gel with your values. By the way, values are your deeply held beliefs. Goals that don’t match your values, don’t give you as much happiness as you thought they’d do.
  • Finally, your goals shouldn’t be in conflict with each other. If you want to master piano and boxing both, you’re setting up conflicting goals. You will have to give up one, as one needs finer hand movements and the other rough.

So, if your values are materialistic, such as money or looks, you get great satisfaction when you achieve wealth and beauty. But if your values are non-materialistic, such as benevolence or compassion, you won’t feel as satisfied if you buy yourself a castle or an anti-aging face surgery.

Another aspect to take care of is your needs. According to the self-concordance model, your well-being is higher when your goals satisfy your psychological needs. Your psychological needs are autonomy, competence, and relatedness.

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When you choose goals according to these guidelines, you ensure your future self a higher level of happiness.
Moreover, such fine-tuned goals also help you push yourself to achieve them.

Best Qualities of Happiness Goals

Researcher Sonja Lyubomirsky says the best goals to pursue for happiness have the following qualities:

  • Realistic and attainable
  • Approach goals*
  • High in commitment
  • Personally meaningful
  • Concerned with community and growth
  • In harmony with your needs and values
  • Intrinsically motivated
  • Do not conflict with each other

*Approach goals are those that you move forwards to rather than withdraw from. As attaining a certain healthy weight than losing a certain number of extra pounds.

Failing To Pursue Your Set Goals

Why do you fail to pursue your chosen goals?

Now that you’ve chosen your goals, you may find yourself in situations when you don’t follow them to the end. Researchers Ford and Nichols found that there can be three reasons for this:

  1. You choose urgent or attractive – but unimportant – goals.
  2. You have a fear of failure, so you don’t even start working on them.
  3. Your goals turn out too hard to keep going after them.

A Classification of Human Goals

I. Within Person

A. Affective goals

  1. Entertainment — experiencing excitement, avoiding boredom
  2. Tranquillity — feeling relaxed, avoiding stress
  3. Happiness — experiencing joy, avoiding distress
  4. Bodily sensation — experiencing pleasurable bodily sensations, avoiding pain or discomfort
  5. Physical well-being — feeling healthy, avoiding illness

B. Cognitive goals

  1. Exploration — satisfying curiosity, avoiding ignorance
  2. Understanding — gaining knowledge and making sense, avoiding misconceptions, errors, and confusion
  3. Intellectual creativity — engaging in original thinking and novelty, avoiding familiarity
  4. Positive self-evaluation — maintaining self-confidence or self-worth, avoiding feelings of failure and guilt

C. Subjective organization goals

  1. Unity — experiencing connectedness or harmony with people, nature, or greater power, avoiding feelings of psychological disunity
  2. Transcendence — experiencing peak states of functioning, avoiding feelings of ordinariness

II. Person-Environment

A. Self-assertive social relationship goals

  1. Individuality — Feeling unique or special, avoiding conformity
  2. Self-determination — experiencing the freedom to act or choose, avoiding feelings of pressure or coercion
  3. Superiority — winning status or success compared to others, avoiding unfavorable comparisons
  4. Resource acquisition — obtaining support and approval from others, avoiding social rejection

B. Integrative social relationship goals

  1. Belongingness — building and maintaining attachments and intimacy, avoiding isolation
  2. Social responsibility — meeting social obligations and conforming to moral conventions, avoiding unethical social conduct
  3. Equity — promoting fairness and justice, avoiding inequality or injustice
  4. Resource provision — giving approval or support to others, avoiding selfish or uncaring behavior

C. Task goals

  1. Mastery — meeting challenging standards for achievement, avoiding incompetence or performance drops
  2. Task creativity — engaging in artistry or creative expression, avoiding mundane or repetitive tasks
  3. Management — maintaining order or productivity, avoiding inefficiency or chaos
  4. Material gain — increasing possession of money or material goods, avoiding poverty or material loss
  5. Safety — being physically secure, avoiding threat or harm

Source of ‘A Classification of Human Goals’: Ford, M.E. & Nichols, C.W. (1991). A taxonomy of human goals and some possible applications. In M.E. Ford, & D.H. Ford (Eds), Humans as Self Constructing Living Systems: Putting the Framework to Work. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence-Erlbaum

Final Words

Goals help you choose where you want to take yourself in life. By knowing and setting your goals, you can decide where do you need to focus your attention and efforts.

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Author Bio: Written and reviewed by Sandip Roy—a medical doctor, psychology writer, and happiness researcher. Founder and Chief Editor of The Happiness Blog. Writes on mental health, happiness, positive psychology, mindfulness, and philosophy (especially Stoicism).


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