Posts Tagged ‘goals’

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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Goals typically produce feelings of contentment and well-being. Without them, life often seems without purpose or meaning.

But is there a flip side? Can goals be harmful as well?

Researchers have studied this important question, especially since so much satisfaction and happiness seems tied to goal-setting and accomplishment.

What is the trade-off?

Anxiety and worry. Researchers say that when people are highly committed to their goals, they may fear failure or worry that they won’t achieve them. This stress or anxiety can often counteract the potential positive effects of goal-setting. For example, not accomplishing one’s goals may threaten a person’s self-worth, even when that person holds positive perceptions of accomplishment.

In other words, goals are good. We must, however, always understand and appreciate the trade-offs associated with them.

Source: The Psychological Trade-Offs of Goal Investment by Eva M. Pomerantz, Jill L. Saxon, and Shigehiro Oishi

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Do people need goals to be satisfied or happy? It’s an important question since so much emphasis is placed in modern societies on the development, pursuit and achievement of goals. Get your degree. Work towards a promotion. Run a marathon. Learn a new skill. Without question, goals are the lifeblood of our daily lives.

But do we need them? Do we need them to be happy? Can a person be perfectly satisfied or happy with few, if any, goals or is that humanly impossible? Are humans hard-wired to accomplish things?

There appear to be no easy answers.

On the one hand, we disparage people we perceive as being without goals, calling them “slackers” or “deadbeats.” At the other extreme, however, we also question the behavior of super over-achievers — those people hell bent on squeezing one accomplishment after another in every day, every month, every year — sometimes every hour!

Meanwhile, we admire people who can “enjoy the moment” without a goal — people, for example, who drop what they’re doing and run outside to witness a fleeting double rainbow after a rainstorm. But we often applaud stories in the news about people who overcome tremendous personal or physical odds to accomplish amazing feats through an elaborate set of goals. In short, we are conflicted. We don’t really know what to make of goals. We assume they’re good for us, but how much and for what purpose?

Perhaps the simple answer to the question as to whether or not we need them is — “most likely, but not necessarily.” For most of us goals are an important part of our satisfaction “system.” They can contribute greatly to our overall satisfaction and happiness and there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence (perhaps even research) to suggest that the pursuit of goals themselves is just as satisfying, if not more so, than the end result.

But they may not be the end-all-to-be-all as some people would lead us to believe. A life without some or many goals may not be a bad thing. If the Eastern religions have taught us anything it’s that we can live in the present and that in itself is satisfying .

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