Take a minute to reflect on your major life goals. Even if you haven’t explicitly thought about it in a while, you’re still moving toward some goals. Interestingly, research shows that what those goals can help determine how happy you are.
One study surveyed 3553 participants on their life goals and levels of happiness in 1990, 1995, and 2004. Goals were categorized as either success, family or altruistic. Success goals were “being able to buy things,” “fulfilling your potential,” “success in job” and the like. Family goals were “having children,” “having a good marriage” and other goals related to family. Altruistic goals were “helping other people,” “being involved in social and political activities” and the like. The researchers found that family goals and altruistic goals were significantly associated with greater happiness, while success goals were significantly detrimental.
Note: additional variables like education and income are controlled for in the second column in the chart above. Also of note, the personality trait of extroversion was significantly associated with greater happiness, while neuroticism was associated with greater unhappiness. Internal locus of control (believing you control your own fate) was also highly associated with happiness. The researchers added, “it is tempting to suggest that internal locus may be the link – the link in terms of perseverance and skills – between having [family and altruistic] goals, pursuing them effectively and increased life satisfaction.” So it’s not only the goals you set, but your believe that you’re able to obtain them through your own effort.
Your goals are under your control. If you want to be happier, make sure to prioritize family and altruistic goals. One practice that the researchers recommended is reflecting over your life from your deathbed. This will help you realize what is important to you and what it not, and in most cases will help you to prioritize family and altruistic goals over success goals.
Headey, Bruce. “Life goals matter to happiness: A revision of set-point theory.”Social Indicators Research 86.2 (2008): 213-231.