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How to set goals that make you happier

Freedom and adventure in nature

Have you arrived at the end of a week, a month, or even a year feeling like you just drifted through it? It probably didn’t feel very good, and that is because, as a human, part of what makes you happy is the chemical reaction of your brain to the satisfaction of achievement. If you haven’t achieved anything, then you’re missing the dopamine surge that brings feelings of contentment and wellbeing.

That’s where goals come in. Studies have proven that people who set goals are, overall, happier and more satisfied with life. Why? Because goals provide a sense of purpose and create optimism for the future. When you make progress on a goal, that achievement creates motivation, which encourages more progress. It’s a cycle of positivity.

Setting goals alone won’t necessarily boost your happiness; you need to make sure you set the right kinds of goals and tackle them in the right way. Here are a few important things to remember when choosing your own goals for happiness.

Make goals for things you really want

There’s no better way to create optimism and motivation than striving for a goal that really inspires you. Whether it’s travelling somewhere you’ve always dreamed of visiting, learning an instrument, or finally decluttering your house, if you want it badly enough then you’re far more likely to approach it with enthusiasm and persistence and experience a much greater sense of achievement with success.

Make them specific

If you set goals like “I want to be happier” or “I want to feel healthier” then you’re setting yourself up for failure, because you have no clear destination and therefore, no clear path towards it. Instead, be very specific about what it is you want to achieve and how you want to achieve it. “I want to feel healthier” might be better expressed as “I want to walk 10,000 steps every day”.

Make sure they’re realistic

Let’s face it, we’d all like to win Lotto, but the chances of that are slim. Don’t base your goals on outside influences you can’t control and don’t set goals that you have little chance of achieving. It will only cause disappointment and stress. Your goals should be challenging but achievable.

Don’t set too many at once

For your goals to be manageable, choose no more than five or six. If you stretch yourself too thin, you’ll reduce the amount of progress you can make on each goal, which will reduce your motivation. It’s a good idea to include a mixture of long and short-term goals so that you can look forward to the reward of completing some of them more quickly.

Write them down

Recording your goals not only helps you remember exactly what you’re trying to achieve, but the act of setting them out in black and white helps you commit to them. Use positive language like “I will” instead of “I would like to”. Make sure you also write down the steps for how you plan to achieve each goal. Breaking a goal down into stages will make it more manageable. You can then tick them off as you reach each milestone.

Ensure your goals are measurable

By stating how the success of your goal is measured, you’ll know when you’ve truly achieved it. Don’t just set a goal to save money – define how much money and by when it needs to be saved. If you’re keen to lose weight, specify how many kilos and in what timeframe.

Review them often

It’s important to review your goals regularly to check how you’re going. Seeing the progress you’ve made will inspire you to continue, or remind you to work a little harder. If you’ve achieved some of the short-term goals on your list, it might be time to add a few more.

Soon, you’ll have the satisfaction of looking back on a list of achievements that make you feel great, and the enthusiasm to tackle new goals and challenges. Happy goal-setting!