by Liesbeth Vanhelmont – Obelisk

Working as part of the Happiness@work project has put me in a position to read more, to know more and to deepen myself in this interesting and relevant theme.

During my further reading, I came across a key note from Richard M. Ryan about happiness and its causes. Richard M. Ryan is an influential University of Rochester Professor Emeritus of Psychology. He is a clinical psychologist and co-developer of the Self-Determination Theory, an internationally recognised and a leading theory of human motivation.

In the key note Ryan focuses on the connection between life goals and happiness, you can watch the following video:

Here are my reflections:

  • The interest and research in the link between life goals and happiness goes way back.
    The great philosophers of ancient time were already interested in these concepts.
    Aristoteles speaks of Eudaimonia and can be roughly translated as ‘living well’ or ‘flourish’. Aristoteles argued that the most satisfying life is one comprised of doing things which are intrinsically good.
  • Not all life goals pay off with the promise that is offered. Sometimes pursuing and achieving life goals does not make you happy. While other times life goals have a greater pay off.

So, which life goals have a greater pay off?

To answer that question, we have to make a distinction between extrinsic and intrinsic goals:

  • Extrinsic goals are primarily focused on external aspirations related to money, status and image.
  • Intrinsic goals relate to the pursuit of things that are meaningful to us. They address our individual needs and wants, often pertaining to issues like personal growth, close relationships and physical and mental wellbeing.

The research comes to different conclusions:

  • People who are pursuing intrinsic goals are happier than people who pursue extrinsic goals. People who focus on personal growth or on loving relationships rate themselves higher on self-actualisation, have more vitality, have fewer symptoms of depression and have fewer physical complaints.
  • Attaining extrinsic goals does not make people necessarily happy. While success at attaining intrinsic goals are deemed to be sufficient for experiencing happiness.

For me this key note was a reminder to myself:

    • To focus more regularly on the intrinsic goals that I pursue and have already achieved.
    • To transform extrinsic goals into intrinsic goals.
      For example: I want to exercise more:

      • Extrinsic goal: “To do more exercise to look attractive to others.”
      • Intrinsic goal: “To do more exercise to feel healthier and get into my peak condition.”

When we shift our mindset from extrinsic to intrinsic, we’re far more likely to achieve the goals we’ve shaped alongside this shift. We might become healthier and happier as a result.