How Setting Life Goals Can Undermine Your Happiness
Setting life goals is generally considered as a positive thing. I disagree with this. In my view, setting goals provides motivation in life but kills happiness
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Relation between setting goal and happiness
There seems to be no relationship between happiness, wealth and prosperity.
The latest figures released recently by World Bank recently show that global poverty level has reduced by half over the last 30 years. This implies that the poverty level has now dropped below 10%. A report presented by CNBC Money on March 24, 2017 shows that the wealth and purchasing capacity of American people at present is stronger than ever before.
However, all the reports and statistics indicate that American people have been less happy. United Nations Happiness Report 2017 suggests that happiness in the United States is declining. In the article ‘Why Americans Have Gotten a Lot Less Happy’ by Martha C. White published in Time Magazine on March 16, 2016, Jeffrey Sachs, the head of the Sustainable Development Solutions Network, asserted that “the United States, which is very rich, has gotten a lot richer over the last 50 years, but has gotten no happier.”
This is likely to be the picture too in other countries around the globe.
Despite having increasing wealth, people are not becoming happier because the source of their unhappiness remains. There is no way to measure how wealth can make a person happy as it will depend on one’s expectation or goal. If a goal is not reached, people can’t be happy- even if they’re billionaires. Goals always exceed achievements.
Setting goal is never ending
Take, for example, a floating ball. No matter how high the water level increases, the ball on the water will remain afloat. Our goals float always on our achievements.
The process of setting life goals is never ending because people keep on setting new goals. We set mainly result-oriented goals and we take them so hard that we are always in anxiety and tension.
I agree that pursuing a goal gives motivation. It could be possible to be happier if attaining the goal is possible.
When we reach our goal, we instinctively seek another goal to make us happier. This way, we are caught in the habit of setting goals continuously in our lives. The process of achieving goals no longer becomes fun; it becomes a burden on our shoulders
Why happiness is on the wane
All the statistics regarding the level of happiness are done by surveys. The results vary depending on how the survey is conducted. And because there is no other way to measure these statistics, we simply accept them as the truth.
Wealth is often associated with satisfaction in life. However, it does not have the same impact on happiness. Happiness is a psychosomatic, matter which cannot be improved by material things alone. We can explain that by the old proverb, “the more you get, the more you want”.
Not many reach the goal
Some researchers have identified ten things that make us unhappy while others have identified five things. However, I find only one thing that hinders happiness and this is setting a goal in life.
Setting a goal is seen as a positive thing by the majority of people. However, I do not see that in the same way.
According to a research conducted by the University of Scranton, only 8% could achieve the new year goals they set while the other 92% could not and, thus are left feeling frustrated and unhappy.
Aiming high cause unhappiness
As human beings, we are naturally driven by ambition. My primary school teacher once asked us about our aim in life. Every boy and girl in my class had an aim in life. Some wanted to become billionaires, some had the ambition to become doctors, and some wanted to become famous singers.
However, none of us seemed to evaluate the possibility of achieving those aims. In other words, we did not evaluate if we are capable of reaching our ambitions or not. As a result, we realize with time that we may not reach those goals and that realization makes us sad and frustrated. If we take that seriously and if we focus too much on achieving those goals, we become constantly worried. This can make us extremely unhappy.
Goal setting theory and my own experience
Locke’s Goal-Setting Theory suggests that what you want to do and how you execute strategies to achieve a goal is applicable for companies that set strategies to accomplish that. I have not seen that many people set process goal in their lives. Even if they do, it would make their lives boring as they’ll behave like machines following their daily routine.
Even all successful companies are careful to guide their outlooks. If the target is not achieved, then share price tumbles.
Such high aims or target setting upset our lives. Last year, I was working for Danish Refugee Council among the Syrian refugees who were crossing the Danish border. I counseled many of them who clearly expressed their unhappiness in Denmark. Their target was to be accepted as refugees in Sweden, but they were unfortunately stuck in Denmark. They escaped from Syria where thousands of people were being brutally killed every day.
They arrived in one of the most peaceful and prosperous countries but they remained unhappy because they could not reach their target destination. It crossed my mind that even in a desperate situation, the refugees were not happy.
Goal gives motivation but not happiness
It is possible to attain a goal for material gains, but attaining a goal cannot bring about happiness. According to a professor of Psychology at Denver University, Iris Mauss, wanting to be happy can make you less and, if you explicitly and purposely focus on happiness, that can have a self-defeating effect.
More often than not, we do not set our goals based on our own desires. Instead, we set goals in our early lives based on the desires of our parents and social pressure. In other words, we set our goals to compete with others.
However, it is important to note that when we set goals based on desires that are not our own, it makes us frustrated and unhappy. It makes us undermine our own desires.
How to eliminate problems of goal setting
The main drawback of goal setting is that there are many unknown factors that can come into play. In a fast-changing society like the one we are living in now, long-term goals often fail. If we persistently stick to such goals, it creates a constant mental burden.
Instead of setting long-term goals, we can set a number of short-terms goals. These goals are easily achievable and do not involve a lot of uncertainties. We just have to know ourselves, so that we can have an idea of what and how much we can accomplish.
Goal setting is not the only thing that determines our happiness. Happiness has many elements, like positive emotions, relationships, accomplishments and gratefulness. Eliminating goal setting alone will not make us happy. You also need to have positive emotions and a deep sense of appreciation in life.
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Author: Obaidul Karim Khan
I am a life coach, mentor, and freelance writer. Currently, I work for Danish refugee council as an integration consultant. I have worked for many years at different international organizations including UNCHCR. I am also the content editor of the website: www.be-happy.info. I have gained vast knowledge in human behavior through studies and direct experience in the field. My area of interest is science of happiness.