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Archive for January 25th, 2008

When it comes to goals, what you pursue and how you pursue them can make an enormous difference in your overall well-being.

In the past several years researchers have studied what many of us know intuitively — money or the pursuit of money probably won’t make us happy. And yet, the desire continues. Entrepreneurs seek the next “killer app.” Gamblers roll the dice and punch their lotto cards. We all continue to cling to the hope and fantasy that if we only had a lot of money all of our woes would end. We would be living on cloud nine.

Deep down, we know it doesn’t work that way.

But researchers wanted to confirm that gut feeling in a series of experiments. They also wanted to see to what extent intrinsic (inwardly) goals affected our well-being compared to extrinsic (external) goals, such as wealth, power and social acceptance.

Not surprisingly, they found that when people focused on external goals, there was a stronger negative relationship between those goals and their well-being. In other words, pursuing wealth, power, etc. had a more damaging effect on one’s happiness compared to pursuing intrinsic goals.

Several reasons could explain the connection.

First, researchers believe people strongly pursuing extrinsic goals tend to have more superficial relationships, engage in more social comparisons, and allow those external pursuits to crowd out enjoyable and satisfying activities.

But it could also be that people with traits such as high insecurity, low self-esteem, or low cooperativeness are attracted to extrinsic goal settings and diminished well-being. Thus, the two go hand-in-hand because of these personality traits.

What is clear is this — people’s choice of goals affects one’s overall, long-term well-being. In addition, the focus of those goals and the dynamic process with which those goals are pursued make a big difference in our lives. People who wish to be happier in their lives may be better served, for example, in focusing more on those goals that involve growth, connections and contribution, as opposed to those goals that involve money, beauty and popularity. In addition, goals that are interesting and more personally relevant to us will also contribute more to our overall well-being than goals that forced or pressured upon us.

Pursue your goals because of what they will do for you on the inside, not for what they will do for you on the outside.

Source: Sheldon, K. M., Ryan, R., Deci, E., & Kasser, T. (2004). The independent effects of goal contents and motives on well-being: It’s both what you pursue and why you pursue it. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 30, 475-486.

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