Happiness. Do you chase it? Do you wait for it? And do you know when to fall into its warm, woolly arms and enjoy.
There are a couple of reasons for the elusiveness of happiness:
- Although people think they know what will make them happy, their predictions are often inaccurate.
- People tend to follow the same path towards happiness over and over, despite not getting the result they want. Mistakes are repeated and when things get hairy, they go back to familiar behavior, regardless of how well that behavior has worked in the past.
New research by Stanford University has found that there is something you can do if you want to be happier – and it’s powerful. It’s all in the way the goals are set – make them concrete rather than abstract. For an extra boost setting and achieving prosocial, benevolent goals will increase happiness even more.
Setting concrete goals reduces the discrepancy between what you expect around the goal being reached (when, if, how) and the reality. The smaller the gap between expectation and reality, the greater the satisfaction, happiness and well-being.
People tend to have inaccurate expectations about future outcomes, which means that the gap between expectation and reality are often quite wide. The secret to happiness lies in minimising the gap.
When goals are concrete, you’re more likely to know exactly what needs to be done to reach them and when they have been met. Success is measurable.
On the other hand broad, abstract goals will set unrealistic expectations and a confusing, perhaps overwhelming, path towards fulfillment.
When considering how to reach a goal, an abstractly framed goal (‘I want to be healthy’) encourages a focus on the why of the action whereas a concretely framed goal (‘I want to exercise four times a week’) turns the focus more on the details and logistics – the how.
An abstract goal can be more difficult to assess than a concrete goal. It’s easier to measure how many times you’ve exercised than it is to measure whether you’ve lived a healthy life.
So How Does it Effect Happiness?
The ‘happiness effects’ are due to smaller gaps between the expectations and reality – the expectation of achieving that goal and the real result. A clearly defined goal is easier to achieve than a vague, generalized goal.
It’s more difficult to know when and if a goal has been met if the goal is couched in abstract terms.
- Rather than, ‘I want to improve my marriage’, try ‘I’ll organise a date night once a week.’
- Rather than, ‘I want to look after the environment’, try ‘I will recycle.’
- Rather than, ‘I’m going to eat healthier,’ try ‘I’m cutting out sugar from 2pm,’ (because you’ve still gotta live, right?)
- Rather than, ‘I’m going to be happy,’ try ‘I’m going to have dinner/coffee with at least one friend once a week,’ (because connecting with your tribe amps up happiness)
- Rather than, I’m going to get to know more people,’ try ‘I’m going to do a cooking class/learn Italian/join cycling group’ (or whatever works for you).
Reframing prosocial goals in more concrete terms allows for more realistic expectations and a greater likelihood of those expectations being met.
In the eternal quest for happiness, the way goals are framed is a critical one and one which, with thought and a small amount of tweaking, can turn the happiness quest from a ‘Lord of the Rings’ style journey to one less daunting and more rewarding.
What will be your goal(s) for the new year? Anything goes. We’d love to hear so feel free to leave a comment down below. You never know who you’ll be inspiring …
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