5 Ways to Find Happiness Through Goal Setting

5 Ways to Find Happiness Through Goal Setting

Goal setting can make you a happier person. It's true!

The field of positive psychology has focused quite a bit of research on how and why setting goals contributes towards building and establishing happiness in life. It is important to remember, as with all things that are worth while, achieving happiness takes practice, consistency, and hard work. In her book "Creating Your Best Life", positive psychology and grit expert Caroline Adams Miller tells us that there are specific ingredients that must go into creating goals that actually contribute to happiness.

They must be measurable, specific, appropriately challenging, value driven, flow inspiring, and most importantly, they must come from the self. Goals that inspire happiness have to come from you. They can’t be informed by anyone else; not your mom, your dad, your partner, your boss, or that dude who sits next to you at work who has an opinion on EVERYTHING. Goal setting is personal business.

Let’s break down all of the components for goal setting for happiness: 

1. Your goal must be measurable and specific.

This is one of the cornerstones of a coaching partnership as well as good common sense for anyone trying to accomplish something.  In order to track progress the intended outcome must be measurable and specific.

One of the reasons that people get lost on the path and end up meaning for years is that there are too many possible options out there for where they can go and what they can do.  I can tell you firsthand that when you take on too many possible future selves you just end up treading water and getting exhausted.  When we created SHFT, I was in the middle of my PhD. I had the opportunity to sign on as CEO of SHFT and I had to make a choice. It was physically impossible to do both. I tried for a hot minute and wound up in a very bad space from a mental and physical health perspective.

A great way to drill down on what you really want is to engage in future visioning - What does your life look like 5 years from now if everything has gone as well as it possibly could?  When I look into the future I see the message of SHFT and the power of meaning and connection spread throughout the world and I spend my days connecting with our awesome tribe members and coaches. That is not going to happen if I spend my time writing research papers. The message here is to get really clear on what you want and dream big to decide on the outcome you are moving towards.

2. Your goal must be appropriately challenging.

I will never be an astronaut. I should never be an astronaut and frankly, I am not capable of being an astronaut. That goal is out of the realm of my physical and mental capacity. It is TOO challenging. Likewise, if I decided to take on a job that had less critical thought involved, less moving parts, and less capacity for leadership I would be bored out of my mind.

For a really long time I felt lethargic, depressed, and I thought that I did not have the capacity to do hard things.  It was actually the opposite - I was not challenging myself nearly enough! I was not using my brain or pushing my body to it’s true capacity and that led to serious bouts of depression, boredom, and idly spent time. A couple good wake up calls and discovering cross fit now leaves me tired at the end of the day, and satisfied. I wake up looking forward to the day’s adventures to come. This is not to say that I do not experience stress and anxiety. Hard things are hard. Stress and anxiety is a natural outcome of appropriately challenging yourself. If you are not stressed on any level you need to drive out further into the expanse of what you are capable of.

3. Your goals to be value-driven and flow inspiring.  

Engaging in hard work that is not aligned with your values feels terrible, and makes it significantly harder to get to a state of flow.  Flow happens when you sink down into your work on an authentic level and lose track of space and time. Having flow experiences is a significant contributor to happiness.  Hard work fueled by passion = flow. I had  a flow experience writing this article.  I friggin love positive psychology and nothing delights me more than helping others become the best versions of themselves. It is a hardcore, deeply held value of mine that there is no such thing as a broken human and people are capable of incredible transformation. I don’t care who you are, you can do hard things, you can change your life. Your life belongs to you and you alone. Your values + measurable and specific goals, followed by concrete actions steps = slow and steady transformation, one step at a time. 

4. Your goals must be intrinsically motivated this means that they must come from the self.  

This is why getting in touch with your values and future vision is so important. So many people end up sick and sad because they set out on a path that was based on the desires or values of other people.  From a feminist perspective I like to point to the t-shirts that read “ be the dr. or ceo that your parents wanted you to marry.”  Damn straight.  How many messages have we absorbed about what our bodies should look like, what our careers should be, what cars signify “successful human. “  Bullshit I say!  Do you.  

If you have been living for others the process of getting in touch with you own needs, wants, and desires can be really unsettling.  It is scary to be a lone human out there in the world, deciding if you like or dislike things without succumbing to groupthink.  


People might think your tastes (like my penchant for neon crocs) are weird (but they are so bright and comfy!)  Your parents might give you shit (like my dad asking me if coaching was a real job.)  But just like learning to ride a bike the more you take ownership of your true, authentic, thoughts and feelings, the better you will feel. In fact, you might even start to feel giddy, because you have this beautiful internal garden that is finally getting some water and sunlight and starting to bloom.  It is never too late to start living for yourself.  Even in little ways that bring you joy each day.  I like to have dance parties with my dog.  I dance and he kind of stares at me but damn it feels good to be a kindness gangster!

Let’s circle back around to the why of all of this: authentic, value driven goal setting contributes greatly to personal growth and happiness.  

You will gain self-efficacy, which essentially the process through which you prove to yourself that you are capable of accomplishment.  

You will  experience deep motivation that comes from working to support your authentic values.  You will experience flow.  

You will learn to derive happiness from within and all of the external things that bring a false sense of happiness will begin to matter less and less.  

And most importantly, you will look back five years from now and you will be straight up amazed at how much you have accomplished and how beautiful your life has become!

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