“It always seems impossible until it’s done.” – Nelson Mandela
What do we do if we want to get good at golf or tennis, speaking Spanish, or playing the piano? We learn the skills and then we practice. But what if we want to be happier? Unfortunately, most of us mistakenly begin by rearranging our life circumstances. We make this error because we fail to see happiness as a skill we can learn and get better at through practice. Once we realize that learning to be happy is no different than learning a sport, language, or an instrument, we can focus our efforts in the right place, changing ourselves rather than changing our circumstances.
Every month this year we are highlighting simple skills that we can learn and practice to invite more happiness into our lives. This month our focus is on the skill of goal setting. Studies suggest that having concrete, action-oriented life goals can increase our happiness and life satisfaction. Not all goals are created equal, however. The ones that tend to provide us with the most happiness are intrinsic goals. Intrinsic goals center on personal growth, relationships, and helping others. Another aspect of “happy” goals is that they focus on mastery. Whenever possible, we should frame our goals as progress goals (those oriented at getting better or improving) rather than performance goals (those focused on achievement or results). Finally, “happy” goals should be challenging. Not surprisingly, setting challenging goals produces benefits that come from commitment and the struggle it takes to achieve them.
“It’s not the content of our movie that needs our attention, it’s the projector.” – Pema Chodron
Try this at home
Here is a simple way you can use the skill of goal setting to increase your happiness. Every day this month, take 5-10 minutes to write about your ideal life 10 years from now. Cover the three areas of intrinsic goals—personal growth, relationships, helping others, as well as any other relevant areas of your life. In each area, answer the question: “What is my greatest hope for this aspect of my life?” Do not worry about what is possible. When you are finished, review what you have written and come up with one or more concrete, action-oriented goals aimed at moving your current life in the direction of your ideal life. Write those goals down and commit them to memory.
Whether or not you ultimately achieve your ideal life is not the point because the satisfaction we ultimately get from our goals, paradoxically, is in doing, not in the achieving. We do not find happiness at the destination; we discover it on the journey.
Would you like to receive our 2017 calendar, Year of Happy? The calendar contains mindfulness practices that will help you make 2017 a year of happiness and compassion.
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