Did you know that goals can increase happiness?

It’s true! It’s all in the pursuit.

Kelsey Cleveland
Source: Kaboompics

I want to be happy in life, don’t you? That’s why I read The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want by Sonja Lyubomirsky. As a goal setting devotee, imagine my delight that goal setting is happiness activity number 10. Plus, the book devotes an entire chapter to committing to your goals. Yippee!

How much of our happiness can we control

Before I dive further into goals, let’s step back for the big picture first. Professor Lyubomirsky, a Ph.D. in Social/Personality Psychology from Stanford University, gives us a realistic view of how much of our happiness is or is not in control. She writes:

“Studies show that 50% of individual differences in happiness are determined by genes, 10% by life circumstances, and 40% by our intentional activities.”

If I imagine my happiness is a pie, I need to focus on the slice (40%) that is in my control. Setting and pursuing goals is one activity I choose to increase my happiness.

A surprising truth about goals

Have you ever experienced a major let down after you achieve a goal? Before the celebration is even over, I begin to feel a sense of loss or sadness. What is that all about?

Thanks to this book, I now know the answer. Pursuing the goals makes us happier than finishing them.

Committing to your goals

First, the author advises picking one, two or three significant goals that are meaningful to me. But that alone is not enough to boost my happiness. I need to devote my time and effort to pursue my goals. The happiness activity is committing to goals not just setting them.

What kinds of goals should I pursue?


Fame. Fortune. Success. External messages shout at me what goals to pursue. I try not to listen to these extrinsic sources. Instead, I choose goals that I will find rewarding. I coach and offer workshops on the Desire Map method of choosing goals based on your core desired feelings. How much more intrinsic can you be than that?

Here’s an example from my life. Last year, in honor of my 20th wedding anniversary, I set a goal of going on 20 dates with my husband over the summer to strengthen our marriage bond. Also, this goal would help me to feel a deep connection, which is one of my core desired feelings. When we were childless, this would have been an easy goal to achieve. But as working parents, this goal was a stretch. The good news is that we did it and our marriage is better than ever.


I know several people who pursue careers in the family business, as doctors or as lawyers because that is what their parents want them to do. But their inauthentic career choices did not fill them. It often takes bravery to pursue goals which allow us to be our authentic selves. I’m taking a risk right now in setting a goal to write and publish a book-length memoir. The pursuit of this goal over the last year has added great meaning and happiness in my life.

Approach-oriented instead of avoidance-oriented

Work towards something with a desirable outcome in mind. Instead of trying to avoid something undesirable.


Choose goals that complement and work well with each other. For example, a habit goal that will help me achieve an achievement goal. This will help make pursuing and reaching your goals an easy habit. I don’t want goals that will conflict with each other. For example, I set a habit goal to write a certain number of hours each week to achieve my book writing goal.

Flexible and appropriate

Life is full of surprises and changes. I need to be flexible to deal with these changes, both good and bad. Sometimes a desire to pursue a goal can come out of nowhere, and we need to change our priorities. My goal to write a book came out of participating in National Novel Writing Month in November in 2017 and took me by surprise. If I had been rigid, I wouldn’t have been able to pursue this goal.


Set a goal that involves activity. Practice yoga every morning. Learn another language. Volunteer once a week. Sonja Lyubomirsky finds that this will improve my and your happiness more than changing your circumstances, which may only boost it in the short term.

Recommendations for committed goal pursuit

The following recommendations come from The How of Happiness:

Choose wisely.

Will the goal help ease a source of my unhappiness? Can I work with my strengths? Does it fit with my lifestyle?

Own your goals and commit with passion.

I now set goals based on my core desired feelings. Pursuing and realizing them helps me feel how I want to feel, which makes me happy.

Create self-fulfilling prophecies.

I try to envision a positive outcome instead of a negative one and feeling one or more of my core desired feelings.

Be flexible.

I try to be kind to myself if I can’t achieve my goal due to life circumstances or if a new goal replaces another goal.

Don’t undermine intrinsic motivation.

This requires that I don’t let naysayers distract me from my goal.

Baby steps: Break down your goals.

What is the next small step that I need to do in pursuit of my goal?

Six benefits of committed goal pursuit.

Not yet convinced? In conclusion, six benefits of committing to the pursuit of goals offered by Sonja Lyubomirsky.

  1. A sense of purpose and a feeling of control in our lives.
  2. Having goals bolsters self-esteem.
  3. Adds structure and meaning to our daily lives.
  4. Helps us learn to master our use of time.
  5. Helps us cope with problems.
  6. Often involves engaging with other people, which can also boost happiness.

What are your goals this year?

Still curious?

Thanks to Joel Mwakasege

Kelsey Cleveland

Written by

Writer | Desire Map facilitator who helps intelligent women design their lives based on how they want to feel @ kelseycleveland.com

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