My sixth post on Dr. Sonia Lyubomirsky’s book The How of Happiness hearkens back to a piece I wrote six years ago when covering Dr. Martin Seligman’s five pillars of positive psychology. He defined the good life as “using your signature strengths every day to produce authentic happiness and abundant gratification.” Lyubomirsky couldn’t agree more. Her research found that individuals working toward something personally significant were far happier than those who did not pursue their dreams and aspirations. Moreover, she found that the process of working toward a valued and challenging goal contributed as much to well-being as its attainment.
Lyubomirsky identifies six benefits of being a goal-directed individual:
- We gain a sense of purpose and feeling of control.
- We strengthen our project planning muscles by breaking down high-level goals into subgoals and tasks and identifying the skills and time tables necessary to complete them.
- We make effective use of our time by setting the day’s priorities and working toward deadlines.
- Our efforts frequently bring us into close contact with others as we seek their assistance in completing our assignments.
- Our focus on meaningful tasks proves an effective coping mechanism when dealing with problems and disappointments.
- Goal-setting bolsters our self-esteem, self-confidence, and efficacy.
While the pursuit and attainment of any goal can bring a sense of satisfaction, we don’t always get a boost in positivity in the doing of it. Happiness-inducing goals have the following characteristics:
- They are personally meaningful, engaging, motivating, and rewarding. They satisfy the need for autonomy, competency, and connection with folks who share a natural interest. Their pursuit does not depend on what others think.
- They are rooted in deeply held interests and core values and align with the pursuer’s personality.
- They draw people toward them; they’re not about avoiding an undesired outcome.
- They complement the other goals that the individual pursues.
- They’re appropriate to one’s age, opportunities, and circumstances; they adapt in the wake of changing priorities.
- They give rise to a range of activities that allow for a continuous stream of new experiences, new connections, challenges, and skill development.
In an ideal world, our professions provide the opportunity for creating happiness-inducing goals. It may take some ingenuity to attend to the assigned responsibilities and work other goals into the mix. WE might ask ourselves: What would make this job more interesting? What new skills could I develop in this role? Is it possible to get everything done more efficiently and effectively, thereby leaving time for other pursuits? Or, could I engage my mind in some other activity while doing the assigned work? Outside working hours, we might explore activities that really light us up and see how we might pursue them in a more goal-directed way.
Goal-directed behavior plays a big role in keeping retirees healthy and happy. Absent the structure of paid employment, many wind up frittering away all the precious free time they’ve gained through years of hard work. To keep their spirits and sense of self alive and well, they need to identify interests that can be pursued with passion. Take and/or teach classes. Serve as an advocate for an important social cause. Volunteer. Become an artist. Learn a musical instrument. Train for a half-marathon. If the road ahead offers limited guideposts, they might seek a group of fellow sojourners to explore the path with them.