Friday, June 28, 2013

How to Set Goals that Make You Happy

Have you ever felt that something was missing in your life and if you only reached this one goal, you would finally feel fulfilled and happy? If only we got that promotion, reached our ideal weight, found our ideal partner, moved into our dream home, or won that award, we would finally find the happiness we have been seeking. 

Unfortunately, reaching these goals oftentimes does not bring lasting happiness. A friend of mine recently got promoted at work and at first she was ecstatic. It was something she had worked so hard for over a long period of time, sacrificing her personal life in the process. But she was surprised by how short-lived her excitement was. A few days later, she no longer felt happy about her accomplishment.

Dr. Tal Ben-Shahar, one of Harvard’s most popular lecturers and author of “Happier”, describes a similar phenomenon after he won the Israeli national squash championship. At first, he was happier than he had ever imagined himself being. After five years of hard work, training, and pain, he had finally won the title! But the next day, the feeling of bliss disappeared and his feeling of emptiness returned. He despaired, not knowing what to do next, since clearly the goal that he had thought would make him happy, did not. Did this mean that it was useless to pursue any goals?

Actually, the problem does not lie with having goals, but with the kind of goals we set and how we go about pursuing them. To be happy, we need to choose goals that are both pleasurable and meaningful, and we need to take time to enjoy the journey. 

From an evolutionary perspective, we have learned that pleasure or pain follows immediately after behavior, so we have trouble connecting that the actions we take now lead to success in a few months. But when we focus on the pleasurable feeling we get as we make progress toward a goal, we now have a series of happy moments every step of the way.

So goals are really just means, not ends. Rather than expecting that the attainment of a goal will make us happy, we need to recognize that it is really the pleasure of the journey that increases our well being and happiness. The key is to enjoy the here and now while we are working toward a goal.

It also matters what type of goals we set. Research by Kennon Sheldon shows that we would be happier if we focused more on self-concordant goals. These are goals that we pursue because of deep personal conviction or strong interest. We choose them because of a desire to express part of ourselves, rather than a need to impress others. Often these are goals that involve growth, connection and contribution.

So we don’t have to stop setting goals, but we can choose them wisely. If we select goals that are important and meaningful to us (not somebody else) and remember to savor and enjoy every step of the way, we can not only reach them, but make ourselves happier in the process! 

I am going to take a minute now to enjoy this moment and then go off and choose some meaningful goals for next week!  :-)

Manuela loves helping others bring more happiness into their lives!  You can visit Manuela's Website for Personal Success Coaching and check out her upcoming “Secrets to Happiness” Workshop!

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Create Space for the New by Letting Go of the Past

"The mental and physical space we create by letting go of things that belong in our past gives us...the option to fill the space with something new."
~Susan Faye West

Dwelling in the past undermines our happiness. Every day I hear from people who are resentful about something that happened to them or about a person who they feel did something to them. 

But what if we didn't let the past consume us? If we do the work necessary to let go, we release our burden and are rewarded with new space to enjoy the present moments more. 

It all starts with taking responsibility for our part in the situation, without any blame. Then we can draw our lesson, decide what good can come out of the experience, and commit to something new going forward.

And thereby create new space for more happiness.

Manuela empowers women to bring more happiness into their lives and thrive! You can visit Manuela's Website for Professional Life Coaching and Personal Growth Workshops.   

Friday, June 14, 2013

Anticipation Is The Greatest Joy

"Never forget that anticipation is an important part of life. Work's important, family's important, but without excitement, you have nothing. You're cheating yourself if you refuse to enjoy what's coming."
~Nicholas Sparks

In German we have a saying: "Vorfreude ist die schönste Freude!" which means "The greatest joy lies in the anticipation." And isn't it true that sometimes we look forward to seeing good friends, going on vacation, or enjoying a special meal or dessert, and just thinking about it makes us feel good? 

Some kids are really good at this - they might literally jump up and down in anticipation of a birthday party or Christmas! And Rafa, our doggie, will excitedly wag his tail and have a hard time sitting still when he expects that he is getting a treat.

Research confirms there is truth to this. In the Netherlands, researchers studied 1,530 people and found that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning a vacation. In the study, simply anticipating the vacation boosted happiness for eight weeks. After the vacation, happiness quickly dropped back to baseline levels for most people.

How can we apply that principle in our life? If we know that anticipation is an important part of happiness, then we can make sure we plan something to look forward to. I am anticipating quality time with friends and our upcoming dance show, and I think I will go off now and plan our next trip! What are you looking forward to?

Manuela loves helping others bring more happiness into their lives!  You can visit Manuela's Website for Personal Success Coaching and check out her upcoming “Secrets to Happiness” Workshop!

Friday, June 7, 2013

Happiness Is The Way, Not the Destination

"All our lives we think happiness is a destination, only to look back and realize that it was the way."
~Robert Brault

Many of us are trapped in the rat race of life, thinking that if we reach a certain goal or a particular destination, we will finally be happy.  However, when we finally arrive at our destination, we often just feel relief that we are no longer under pressure or we feel happy for a brief time. So we quickly focus on our next goal, hoping to catch the next glimpse of relief or happiness, and never really get to enjoy the present. 

In order to experience lasting happiness, we need to enjoy the steps we take on our journey toward a goal that is important to us.  We need to take time to enjoy each day and all the little moments, as we are moving forward toward our dreams and goals. 

Manuela loves helping others bring more happiness into their lives!  You can visit Manuela's Website for Personal Success Coaching and check out her upcoming “Secrets to Happiness” Workshop!

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Stop Asking “Am I Happy?”

Am I happy? I have often asked myself this question, hoping that it would act as a compass to guide me whether I am in a good place or need to change something. And well-meaning friends have asked me this question, too, wanting to know that I am doing well.

Yet it is sometimes a hard question to answer, because we are not happy every minute of the day. Also, how do we gauge happiness – do we set an internal standard or do we try to compare ourselves to others? And how would we know how happy others truly are?

So I was curious to read Tal Ben-Shar’s book “Happier”, in which he suggests a more helpful question to ask. The question is “How can I become happier?”

He argues that the pursuit of happiness is an ongoing process, not a destination. This finite point when we finally reach perfect happiness does not exist, but we can definitely bring more happiness into our lives.

I always tell people that loving yourself is a practice, not a one-time thing that you do. It’s like working out – you don’t just go the gym once and are set for the rest of your life. Similarly, you don’t just accept yourself and show self compassion once and are done. And in the same way, you don’t just pick a pursuit that makes you happy and are complete.

We sometimes wish for a quick fix, but the truth is that in order to reach most things that we want, we need to establish a practice. Ideally, it’s something we do regularly at a specific time, and is motivated by something that is deeply meaningful to us. 

Because I value being present and aware, my morning Tai Chi practice is very important to me. Since connection, self-expression, and feeling alive are meaningful to me, my weekly dance classes are one of my priorities. And they both contribute to my happiness. What values are important to you and how do you choose to practice them regularly in your life?

Manuela loves helping others bring more happiness into their lives!  You can visit Manuela's Website for Personal Success Coaching and check out her upcoming “Secrets to Happiness” Workshop!