Happy goals

Celebrity and success have become synonymous these days. Today the name recognition of aimless dysfunctionals willing to expose their bodies and limited education to reality television cameras exceeds the notoriety of novelists, sculptors, and Nobel Prize recipients. Celebrity has become the reward for those who look good or who have attracted attention to themselves. Yet does fame, celebrity, and wealth create happiness in your life?

This is what was examined in a study that looked at people in the first two years after graduating from university who were given psychological surveys to assess satisfaction with life, self-esteem, anxiety, physical signs of stress, and the experience of positive and negative emotions. The subjects were also tested to see whether their motivation in life tended to be “intrinsic” or “extrinsic”.

Goals were identified as either “intrinsic” or “extrinsic” by asking participants how much they valued having “deep, enduring relationships” and helping “others improve their lives” (intrinsic) versus being “a wealthy person” and achieving “the look I\’ve been after” (extrinsic). The participants also reported the degree to which they believed they had attained these goals.

To track progress, the survey was administered on two occasions separated by 12 months, one year after graduation and two years after graduation. This post-graduation period was selected because it is typically a critical developmental juncture for young adults when they are in a position to determine for themselves how they want their lives to proceed.

The results showed firstly that the more committed you are to a goal, the greater the likelihood of success. However, getting what you want does not always lead to happiness and wellbeing, particularly if you are motivated by extrinsic goals.

The research showed that reaching materialistic and image-related milestones actually contributes to feeling worse about life. It seems that despite their accomplishments, individuals who desire and even achieve extrinsic goals like recognition then experience negative emotions like shame and anger and physical symptoms like anxiety, headaches, digestive problems, and loss of energy. By contrast, people who value personal growth, close relationships, community involvement, and physical health become more satisfied as they achieve those goals. These intrinsically motivated people experience a deeper sense of wellbeing, more positive feelings toward themselves, richer connections with others, and fewer physical signs of stress.

The bottom line of that is it might be a good time to reset your goals, particularly if your goals depend on external factors and approval. After all, a goal’s hardly worth having if attaining it won’t bring you happiness.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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