secret to happiness

I read a few weeks ago that despite having recently had a number one album in the US, Miley Cyrus is more unhappy than she has ever been. Now before I explain the relevance of roses and puppy dogs, just think about this for a moment. She’s smashed one of her MAJOR goals in life; to reach number ONE on the charts, even after her publicized difficulties, and yet she still feels at her unhappiest.

So why is she so unhappy?

I can’t speak for Miley, but I do have a few ideas around this, because it’s something I see a lot as a coach. Chasing goals can be a dangerous game to play. In-fact in my experience, constantly chasing after our goals can result in heightened levels of anxiety, stress and unhappiness.

But why? Aren’t we supposed to be setting goals, racing after them and then basking in our own magnificent success stories?

Well…on some levels yes. But it’s just not healthy to make our goals the core focus of our own personal happiness. And this is why:

Goals only ever exist in the future. So, by chasing our goals as a form of happiness, we can never physically ‘reach’ that happiness – because it never reaches the present moment.

In other words we are chasing after something that can’t ever exist. Let me explain this further – how many times have you set yourself a goal, only to slog away for hours, days, weeks, months, even years to finally reach the goal? What happened when you reached it? If you’re like most people on the planet, instead of stopping for a millisecond to savour the goal you probably started thinking about what you want to do next instead.

The merry go round of goals

This turns into what I call the ‘merry go round of goals’. We get sucked into this compulsive desire to kick goal after goal after goal without stopping to smell the roses. We’re like excited puppy dogs getting distracted by each shiny new toy…as soon as a new one turns up BOOM, off we go chasing, chasing, chasing.  But like I said earlier, this means that we never actually reach happiness; instead it remains an elusive mirage in the distance, constantly hovering in the future, just out of our grasp.

So in my humble opinion, smelling the roses is vastly underrated, excitable puppy dogs are actually overrated (well most of the time…) and Myley Cyrus is…well unhappy….because she ignores the roses and gets distracted by the puppy dogs (obviously this is all educated guesswork but it’s a lovely metaphor nonetheless). And it appears that  this is a common phenomenon. In-fact only last week I interviewed a very successful businessman who had founded his own Ad Agency, made millions, was at the top of his game on a boat, living the highlife when he had a very clear realization –

“This isn’t making me happy.”

Perhaps this is the very purpose of goals. To show us that once we do reach them, the world doesn’t magically turn into the perfect place that we wish it was, that there is no magic formula for happiness, and that ultimately we need to look inside ourselves to find the personal happiness that we seek, and this is a place that is separate from goals and external circumstances, situations and events. (phew that was a long sentence. Now you can breathe.)

Ditching the ‘I’ll Be Happy When” syndrome

How many times have you thought to yourself: “I’ll be happy when <insert radically amazing goal here>”. In my opinion, this is the fastest path to unhappiness. Whatever the goal, whether it’s a new house, a new career, the perfect partner, a family, a million dollars, or in Miley Cyrus’s case, a number 1 album; whatever the goal is, the reality is that you won’t suddenly become happy when you reach it. Sure, you might have a momentary flicker of satisfaction having reached your goal, but it won’t provide you with the true happiness that you seek. I can guarantee it.

No more goals?

So what’s the answer? Should we ditch goals entirely and be happy with a life that just is? Nope. I believe there’s still immense value in setting goals, because they motivate us to really get out there and live life. I do believe though that the focus should shift from being purely about the outcome of a goal and to a more holistic appreciation of the entire process. Instead of constantly looking to the future, can we not appreciate each step along the way? Instead of a deep desire to get somewhere else, can we not just enjoy the here and now?

And so this brings me back to Miley Cyrus. I wonder if when she hit the number one spot with her album she cast her mind back to all of the amazing steps along the way that got her to that end goal. I wonder if she wistfully remembered how much fun she had during the creative process of making music out of nothing…of working with amazing, super talented artists and of the pure creative expression that comes with being an artist? Because my guess is, if she could find a way to shift her focus onto these aspects of the goal, if she could stop to smell the roses (and ignore those pesky puppy dogs) then she would have a greater stab at experiencing true happiness.

Simple Life Strategy: How to Set Amazing Goals (and be happy too)

1. Start to become aware of how often you find yourself attaching happiness to an external event or goal

2. Make time to focus on the present! Ditch the ‘I’ll be happy when’ syndrome

3. Remember that no external event or ‘thing’ will suddenly make you happy, including your biggest goals & dreams

4. Still set yourself goals, but don’t attach to the outcome. Instead focus on how much enjoyment you can get out of the process of reaching a goal

5. Remember to practice gratitude. Be grateful for how you are feeling and everything that you have NOW. Not what you want in the future.

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I’d love to hear about your goals and how they made you feel once you reached them? Have you ever reached a goal and been surprised at how indifferent you felt? Make my day – leave a comment below. Go on…

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