When I was growing up, all I wanted was to write for the state’s largest newspaper. I dreamed about it. And, after studying journalism in college, I did it. I accomplished that dream.
But, when I ultimately reached that goal any success I felt mingled with disappointment. It was like discovering the wizard behind the curtain was really a broken old man with no magical powers. Without even realizing it I’d chosen a goal that had been more about the outcome, than the process. More on the external reward of status, than contribution. While the outcome was satisfying – I loved working for the pub – it wasn’t long before I felt restless and ready to move on.
The best goals — the ones you can feel good about and achieve — says success expert psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, are those that satisfy three human needs. If they don’t, chances are you won’t find much happiness even if you accomplish them.
The three basic needs
Belonging-ness. The most satisfying pursuits fill our need to relate to other people. While I can spend long (and happy) hours alone, working and writing – ultimately, I do want others to read what I come up with. I want to hear from editors and readers. Talk with them about these ideas. Writing a book involves this kind of communication and a sense of contribution. That works for me.
Competence. Whichever goal you pursue, you must feel like you can do it. That you can be effective, or can learn what you need to know along the way to achieve the outcome you desire. For me, with my arthritic, unathletic body, picking a goal to climb a mountain then, would undermine my happiness – because it’s not something I’d be able to do anytime soon – if ever.
Autonomy or authenticity. To me, this is a biggie. Whatever dream you dream, it must be something that feels authentic. Something that reflects you and your values. Something consistent with the things you care about. If these things don’t line up, chances are you’ll have a hard time achieving your goal, and it’s unlikely you’ll find much joy in it even if you do.
Now that you’ve read this list of basic needs, stop and reflect on the goals that you’ve achieved and those that you are pursuing.
Do they make sense? Do they meet these three criteria (among others)? If not, look at what you’re doing and why and adapt the goals in a way that will lead to greater life satisfaction. It will only insure greater success and happiness along the way.