Happiness Club Key 6: Setting goals

Join our tribe of readers who are spreading happiness by creating Happiness Clubs in their own homes around the world, with a little help from Psychologies and Action for Happiness. This month, the focus is on setting goals – both large and small

by Psychologies

Last month,  we were exploring the fifth ‘key’ to happiness from Action for Happiness: learning something new. ‘As human beings, we have a natural desire to learn and progress. Psychologists call it mastery,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychologist for Action for Happiness. Inspired, my happiness group committed to do everything from cooking new menus to signing up to a one-day gardening course.

I decided to sign up to an online course with my favourite spiritual author Pema Chödrön – with live question-and-answer sessions. Her book When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice For Difficult Times (Element, £9.99), has been a massive inspiration to me for the past few years, so I was really looking forward to spending three hours a week in the company of her wisdom and insight.

Getting into action

We’re changing gear and getting into action, and this month we’re looking at setting goals. Goals are the way we can turn our values and dreams into reality. ‘Happiness doesn’t just happen – it comes from thinking, planning and pursuing things that are important to us,’ says King. Scientific research shows that setting and working towards goals can contribute to happiness in various ways, including:

  • Being a source of interest, engagement or pleasure
  • Giving us a sense of meaning and purpose
  • Bringing a sense of accomplishment when we achieve what we set out to (or milestones along the way) – this also builds our confidence and belief in what we can do in the future.

‘Goals help focus our attention. Actively working towards them appears to be as important for our wellbeing as achieving the end results we are aiming for,’ says King.

Research also shows that goals are most successful when they’re something we really want to achieve and when we set them for ourselves – rather than being something someone else wants us to do.

Our smaller goals may seem less important, but having personal projects that matter to us – and are manageable – has been consistently shown to boost wellbeing, especially when they’re supported by others around us. And it’s even better if we can link our smaller goals back to our biggeraims and priorities in life.

How do we set goals?

Goal-setting is a skill and it can be learned, says King. Follow our six-step guide.

  1. Decide. Think of something you want to do or work towards – ideally something you want to do for its own sake that you feel excited by. It can be a big thing or a small thing – sometimes it’s easier to get going with something small. It often helps if it’s something that’s just a little bit beyond what you currently can do – goals that stretch us can be motivating!
  2. Write them down. This increases our chances of sticking with them. Write down how you’ll know you’ve reached your goals and when you’d like to have achieved them by. Ask yourself what it will ‘look’ like and how you will feel when you’ve done it. Describe your goal in specific terms and timescales, so ‘I want to plant lettuces in the vegetable patch by June’ rather than ‘I want to do some gardening’, and in terms of what you want, not what you don’t want. So try ‘I want to wear my favourite jeans again’, rather than ‘I don’t want to be overweight anymore’.
  3. Be accountable. Telling someone about our goals also increases the chances of us sticking with them.
  4. Create baby steps. Break down bigger goals into smaller goals so you can feel successful along the way.  Having several smaller goals makes each of them a bit easier and will help you feel like you’re doing well, which will help keep you on track.
  5. Plan your first step. Getting started can be the hardest bit. Once you create momentum, it gets easier. Plan how and when you’ll make your first step, then the next five, then keep going. If you’re struggling, ask people for ideas; they may help you see a different perspective. Thinking about different ways of reaching our goals makes it more likely we’ll be successful.
  6. Celebrate. When you reach your goal, take time to enjoy it and thank those who helped you. Think about what you enjoyed and learned along the way. Now, what is your next goal or project going to be?

How to set up your Happiness Club

For more details on how to set up your own Happiness Club, see psychologies.co.uk/get-your-happiness-club-started. For video interviews with Mark Williamson, the director of Action for Happiness, and positive psychologist Vanessa King, and to see the highlights of the first ever Happiness Club meeting with Psychologies’ Suzy Greaves, click on: lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk/channels/154-the-happiness-club

The 10 keys of happiness

  1. Giving: Do things for others
  2. Relating: Connect with people
  3. Exercising: Take care of your body
  4. Appreciating: Notice the world around you
  5. Trying out: Keep learning new things
  6. Direction: Have goals to look forward to
  7. Resilience: Find ways to bounce back
  8. Emotion: Try to take a positive approach
  9. Acceptance: Learn to be comfortable with yourself
  10. Find meaning: Become a part of something bigger

Photograph: iStock

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