Setting goals has been extremely important for me in both my personal and professional development. Personally, I like to use methods like SMART-goals, which I’m sure many of you have heard of. If you’re not familiar with the concept, it basically states that goals should be four things: Simple, Measurable, Achievable, and Relevant. It’s a methodology that has been covered plenty on the web and elsewhere, so there’s really no need to break down each component here. But if this is your first exposure to the idea, I do encourage you to take a closer look.
What I’m interested in today, rather, is how to use a system like SMART-goals, or any other method for setting goals, in tackling the question of how to be happy in life.
Of course, if we’re going to do that, it might be helpful to consider what we mean by happiness in the first place. Because when you really sit down and think about it—which I had to do to write this article—happiness can be sort of hard to precisely define.
What isn’t happiness?
I started off by considering what happiness does not mean (at least for me). Aside from the obvious things like sadness and misery, the first thing that struck me was that happiness is not contentment. Contentment is … well, I don’t like it to be quite honest.
The idea of contentment just conjures up too many images of focusing on what I’ve already accomplished, or complacency about a current proficiency. It just keeps me from looking at things critically and seeing how they can be improved. And one thing that I can say for sure is that when I’m not improving, I feel like I’m not living intentionally and I’m definitely not as happy as I could be.
I don’t equate happiness with emotions like joy or elation either. Being joyful or feeling elation are both very important—especially when you achieve something that is meaningful to you. Acknowledge that moment and savour it. But realise that these feelings are fleeting. Happiness, on the other hand, is something that I view as more of a constant companion. Even more to the point, happiness is not always fun, it’s not always a joy or a thrill. Sometimes it can even be wrapped up in a tremendous amount of effort and struggle.
Let me explain a little…
Happiness means meaning
One of the most important components of how to be happy in life that I’ve found is doing things that really have meaning to you. When you are tuned in, living with intent, and doing work that you really believe in, it allows you to bring out this genuine happiness that is buried somewhere inside of you. It’s like it’s always there, you just have to work to dig it up, and then work even more to put it out into the world at large. It’s not always an easy thing to do.
The reason this can be a bit challenging is that when we are pursuing what we are really passionate about, it means we are not accepting compromises. It also means we are not taking the easy route and we are working with a high degree of integrity, ethics, and professionalism. And doing those things requires plenty of energy, perseverance, and self-sacrifice. It’s not always a stroll in the park, but it can bring you tons of happiness.
So here is a simple living tip that you can use to begin bringing that happiness out, and also start moving toward work that feels less like a career and more like a life-mission.
Begin by setting a single SMART-goal
When I first considered starting my own business, I have to admit that the thought of doing so terrified me a little. Is there ever a good time to leave your well-paying job and all of the comfort and security that it provides? The timing never seems to be right, so most people never make the leap into doing what they truly want to do. Yet something was telling me that I had to do it, or else I was never going to understand how to be happy in life.
What finally got me over the hump was when I stopped thinking about any kind of final destination, and about all of the things that could go wrong along the way. I actually changed my life with one simple goal—well, I at least started the process. The idea was to make it a habit every day, before my regular work began, of spending thirty minutes in the morning drafting a business plan for what I wanted to do. I knew that I could do this.
I knew I could spare thirty minutes out of my day and devote it to what I really sought to accomplish in life. After ten days, that thirty minutes dedicated to planning some aspect of my business became a habit that was just as routine as brushing my teeth. At that point, I knew it was time to set a new SMART-goal, one that would take me yet another step closer.
Things began to snowball from there. Setting these little goals, and incorporating very small positive habits one at a time, had a larger effect than I could have ever imagined. It also made me feel very happy when I did these things. It was funny like that—working toward the goals made me happy and the results of achieving the goals even furthered my happiness. Suddenly, everything that I had done was just feeding off of each other.
When it finally came time to make the leap and start my own business, all of the anxiety that I imagined I would have simply didn’t exist. Not only did I already have confirmation that what I was doing was bringing me great happiness, but I also had already developed a core set of habits that would allow me to be successful. And I knew how to set goals that would allow me to continue awakening my happiness within.