Having goals are an essential aspect of life. There is nothing profound in that statement. Whether it’s setting tasks to accomplish for that day or that week, they help people focus their responsibility and accomplish that which they wish to accomplish. However, let’s look a bit deeper than looking at trying to get an A in Physics or an attempt to lose 15 pounds before Summer. Look at the goal to master an instrument, to get in shape, to ace not just one course, but all your courses each year. A goal to better your life. These are not impossible goals in the literal sense. No laws of physics need to be broken nor extraordinary feats of talent be harnessed to reach these goals. With long-term consistent effort these goals are possible to reach for.
The example goals above are a select few of my own goals. Now, I’d like you to take a moment to identify yours. Try to come up with 5 different challenging goals that you dream about accomplishing.
Feel a bit overwhelmed? You should. These types of goals are not the ones that can be checked off over a weekend, month, or year.
Let’s dive into my goal of getting in shape. If I desired to stay in shape, then I will have to proactively make the decisions that will allow myself to maintain a healthy body. Accompanying this goal come logical guidelines and restrictions. In this example, a guideline could be understanding the necessity to exercise at least three times a week. While on the other hand, a restriction could be cutting out all chinese food. They follow logical thought. If I exercise, then I will be in better shape. If I eat chinese food, then I will be in worse shape.
Extracted from logic, these guidelines are the steps, the sub-goals. Each week, I have the goal to exercise minimally three times. Around the clock I have the goal to stay away from chinese food. The requirements and restrictions defined when attacking the main goal are the recurring sub-goals. I may exercise 5 times this week, but when the new week comes, the sub-goal resets. If I stopped working on my sub-goals, then it would be impossible to reach my main goal. After a certain amount of time of completing recurring sub-goals, I will complete the base goal. I will be in shape. I can finally check off the goal. Hooray!
Now I’m contradicting myself. After stating that these goals can not be checked off in a certain amount of time, I give an example explaining the contrary.
What happens after the goal is checked off? Accomplished and finished, the goal can lie peacefully completed. I can loosen up my diet a little. Do a little less exercising. Nothing too drastic. Since there is no goal, or task desired to be accomplished, then there are no guidelines or instructions. Lack of discipline over time will most likely result in a body that is not so in shape. I’ll find my goals checklist, put it on the table, and under the previously checked off accomplished goal, rewrite it with a new empty check box.
Think about the emotional peaks and troughs that would accompany this cycle of accomplishment and relapse. To have the sweetness of success turn to the rotten taste of failure and back again. The highs definitely are a reason to make it worth it, but its more important to understand the lows. The lows which contain overwhelming feelings of self-doubt, lack of self-esteem due to lack of discipline, and whatever is in the mixer of defeat.
However, there is one goal I had yet to mention. What purpose is there in being in shape or mastering an instrument? Whats the point of working on and finishing a project? Why do it? Because these goals are sources of joy and positive experiences. Being able to play an instrument will allow me to provide entertainment and fun for myself and others. Accompanying completing a project comes a sense of pride and accomplishment. Being in shape will allow me to enjoy more from life. All of the consequences of these goals have a single congruent motivation. To be happy.
To me, being happy means you are satisfied with the way you are living your life, knowing what your absolute maximum potential (“2. What is Absolute Maximum Potential?“) is while consistently working towards it. Happiness itself explicitly implies its dependence on other goals which serve the purpose to bring you happiness. In order to ace all my classes, I must successively complete all assignments while efficiently studying for exams. There is a goal and there are steps to reach it. But what about happiness? If happiness is the goal, then what are the steps?
Look at this question through a lens equivalent to the one used in the example of the goal to get in shape. There must be logical guidelines and restrictions to having a happy life. What are they then? What discerns your happy life? Although religions, practices, and rules discuss ways of living a happy life, a majority of these guidelines and restrictions are merely universal ideals. Be good to people. Believe in a better future. However, to truly have meaning, there must be motivation of intrinsic value. The guidelines and restrictions of living a happy life are the exact guidelines and restrictions that accompany all of your hardest goals.
The ultimate goal to live a happy life has no final completion. To be happy is to essentially be enveloped in warm, positive, pleasant emotions and thoughts. It’s a feeling. It’s not a project where there is a finished product. It’s not a goal like getting in shape where there is a visible difference. Although your happiness can project outward in a visible manner, the state of being happy is purely a mind-set. A frame of thinking and feeling that is positive, light, and joyous in manner. It lacks significant anguish and suffering.
To understand this, I look at a very specific moment in time. I think of this minute I am writing and can now understand what it means to have a happy life. In this exact minute, I feel a sense of happiness and calm because I am working on my goal. My goal to understand happiness while sharing it with people. After completing this post, I will feel the happiness from successfully finishing a sub-goal of the main goal described in the preceding sentence. But if I do nothing for the next two days then a feeling of lack of direction takes place. That unease and boredom settles in and I feel uncomfortable with myself.
A life of happiness is a life in which one is continuously either experiencing joy from working towards a goal or experiencing joy from having completed a sub-goal. However, because joy received from completing sub-goals diminishes over time, the main goals must have a recurring or unreachable nature or else all wells of happiness will eventually dry up.
This is why the goal “to get in shape” is incomplete. It is merely a sub-goal to maintaining a healthy body. It is a single recurring goal accidentally identified as a main goal. The main goal of maintaining a healthy body is an example of a recurring goal as it is one that must be maintained after being reached. Similarly, a musician who masters an instrument must sustain his ability through practice as to not lose the skills.
Now to answer the title. If your ultimate goal is to live a happy life, then yes, it is absolutely worth it to strive towards impossible goals.
Coming up: “4. How Recurring and Unreachable Goals Lead to a Happy Life”
In my next blog post, I will focus on the difference between recurring and unreachable goals and how they are important towards a happy life.