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Why reaching your goals won’t make you happier

While setting and achieving goals can improve your happiness, being unhappy now and believing you will be happy once you achieve your goals is an erroneous belief.

“I’ll be happy when . . .” Fill in the blank with that one thing, that one goal that you think will finally make you happy. Land your dream job? Win that big client? Buy a house? While setting and achieving goals can improve your happiness, being unhappy now and believing you will be happy once you achieve your goals is an erroneous belief. Happiness expert Gillian Mandich says this way of thinking can actually lead to depression and toxic emotions.

“People often focus too much on the salient high points (the vacation, voyage, or feast) and too little on the day-to-day events that have a more profound effect on overall happiness,” says Mandich. Living in pursuit of these big life moments won’t actually lead to lasting, meaningful happiness.

The reason for this is something called “hedonic adaptation.” Humans are remarkably good at adapting to changes in our lives. This trait is beneficial to us in many ways to get through hard times and adapt to new surroundings; however, it also means that when we achieve something that should bring great happiness; such as getting a new car, a new job, or a new relationship, we adapt too quickly. Those new things become familiar very quickly and that amazing burst of happiness is just that, a temporary dose.

But that’s not the only reason living for the big goals won’t lead to lasting happiness. Mandich says only 10% of our happiness is determined by our circumstances, while 40% of our happiness is determined by our everyday thoughts and behavior and 50% of our happiness is genetically determined. So, if being happy once we achieve that major milestone only accounts for 10% of happiness, thinking you’ll be happy when you achieve that big goal just isn’t going to cut it. Achieving long-lasting happiness means focusing on daily doses, rather than just those major events.

Building your happiness muscle means finding happiness in your daily life. Here are some simple ways to find more happiness  in the day-to-day:

Take pauses to enjoy the small pleasures in life

Taking a moment to savor happiness is a great way to be mindful of how you feel when you’re happy. Savor a delicious cup of coffee, take a moment to appreciate time spent with a friend. Instead of letting positive feelings pass with little attention, take the time to acknowledge, appreciate, and enjoy them. “Savoring can be a potent happiness booster,” says Mandich. This simple mindfulness exercise can help you to discover happiness in everyday occasions.

Be more generous

“When you do something nice for someone it releases endorphins that activate the parts of your brain associated with happiness, pleasure, and social connection,” says Mandich. Find simple ways to be generous such as buying a stranger behind you in line a cup of coffee, or giving someone a compliment.

Be more grateful

Practicing gratitude not only increases your happiness but also protects you from stress, anxiety, and depression. “A regular gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to counter the brain’s negativity bias (the tendency to cling to negative thoughts and things in the environment),” says Mandich. Create a gratitude journal and write down five things you’re grateful for every day. Or simply take a moment in your day to feel grateful. This could be feeling grateful for your friends and family, or for the sunshine after a dreary, rainy week.

Get more exercise

Regular exercise helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. “Happiness and exercise are both independently associated with the release of endorphins (feel-good hormones) and an increase in immune function; it also decreases cortisol (a stress hormone),” says Mandich. Find ways to incorporate even a few minutes of exercise into your daily activities can help boost your overall happiness.

About the author

Lisa Evans is a freelance writer from Toronto who covers topics related to mental and physical health. She strives to help readers make small changes to their daily habits that have a profound and lasting impact on their productivity and overall job satisfaction


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