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Goals give meaning and focus to life, they help us to narrow down what is important to us and they provide motivation for growth. And according to Sonja Lyubomirsky in “The How Of Happiness” having meaningful authentic intrinsically driven goals increases our levels of happiness.

Here’s how goals impact our happiness (Lyubomirsky “The How of Happiness”)

  • Goals provide us with a sense of purpose and a feeling of control over our lives (if you don’t have goals how can you achieve your dreams?)
  • They increase our self-esteem, confidence and performance. Think about how you feel when you make another step toward your goals
  • They bring structure and meaning to our daily lives. They give us timeframes, direction and reasons for learning
  • They help make better use of time. Breaking goals down in to smaller goals allows us to develop a plan to achieve them and use our time consciously
  • Maintaining your focus on goals during challenging times helps us cope
  • Goals often involve others, so they provide opportunities to create or maintain social connections to create a sense of belonging

However, not all goals are created equal. Intrinsic goals are the ones that you pursue because you want to, they are meaningful and satisfying to you. When you are pursuing intrinsic goals you are likely to feel more authentic and aligned to your values. They are not goals that others set for you, or ones that you think you should have due to expectations that others put on you. So of course, as we could expect these intrinsic goals are the ones that make us happier. They satisfy some of our basic human needs like autonomy, competence and relatedness.

Extrinsic goals are more about what others desire for you and are driven by external factors (e.g.: the desire to make more money, own a better car, fame), on their own they are certainly not as likely to make you happier. Sometimes we may pursue extrinsic goals as a means to allowing us to pursue intrinsic goals, e.g.: secure a bonus at work so you can travel to Italy to pursue your goal of learning to cook authentic Italian food.

Think about your goals, do they involve you moving toward a desirable outcome, or do they focus on avoiding an undesirable outcome?   (E.g.: “I want to eat healthy organic food” versus “I don’t want to be fat”). The wording of our goals is important in how they impact our motivation to pursue them, our success in achieving them, and therefore how they impact our happiness.

In the work we do (leadership and executive coaching) we have noticed more and more of our clients expressing a desire to lead a more fulfilling life. They often talk of their aspirations to be doing something other than what they are currently doing. Yet their perceived lack of time and often a lack of confidence prevent them from taking steps to set goals and make changes.    A focus on creating authentic intrinsically driven goals could be the first step to increasing their life satisfaction and happiness.

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