Are you pursuing the right type of goals?

Many of us fall into this thinking trap: “If I make more money, then I’ll be happy,” or “If I lose ten pounds, then I’ll be happy.” We focus on being a “success” in the eyes of society – chasing money, fame and physical attractiveness – believing that all of these things will make us happy. The problem with this thinking is that happiness is not based on conditions. Happiness is a state of being. It’s accepting and being grateful for where you are, in this moment.

So, what’s the secret to being happy?

Set intrinsic goals, not extrinsic goals.

If you are constantly chasing external markers of success to find happiness, you will always be searching. Rather than going after extrinsic goals such as more money or popularity, start to think in terms of setting intrinsic goals: close relationships, community involvement or personal growth.

“Intrinsic goals are those which are inherently satisfying to pursue because they are likely to satisfy innate psychological needs for autonomy, relatedness, competence and growth,” according to researchers Peter Schmuck, Tim Kasser and Richard M. Ryan.

This is all part of the self-determination theory, a philosophy of human motivation that relates to our innate psychological needs:

  1. Autonomy: feeling in control of your behavior

Ask yourself: Is my goal something I’m passionate and excited about? Does it reflect my core values and beliefs?

  1. Competence: gaining mastery of a skill or task

Ask yourself: Is my goal about learning and growing as a person? Is it about self-improvement?

  1. Relatedness: feeling a sense of connection or belonging to others

Ask yourself: Is my goal about creating or strengthening relationships?


Find out if you are intrinsically or extrinsically motivated.

Here are a few specific examples of extrinsic and intrinsic goals, and the difference between them:

  • Extrinsic: Studying to get straight A’s
  • Intrinsic: Studying because you find the topic fascinating


  • Extrinsic: Getting a job promotion because you want to make more money and impress other people
  • Intrinsic: Getting a job promotion because you enjoy a challenge and you want to become better at what you do


  • Extrinsic: Going to the gym to lose weight and become more physically attractive
  • Intrinsic: Going to the gym to keep your body healthy, strong and energized


Intrinsic goals are associated with higher self-esteem and higher levels of happiness, whereas extrinsic goals are associated with anxiety, depression and lower levels of happiness.

Heidi Grant Halvorson, author of Succeed, explains that “Any goal that is related to obtaining other people’s validation and approval or external signs of self-worth isn’t going to do it for you. Accumulating wealth for its own sake also won’t lead to real happiness (this is not to say you should [sic] care about money at all, just that being rich isn’t a sure ticket to a happy life).”

Yes, it feels good to be praised and admired. Who doesn’t like it? The problem becomes when you thrive off the attention and admiration. It can be addictive, and consequently quite dangerous for your mental health.

When we let our moods rise and fall based on external circumstances such as validation and approval, we are only happy until the next bad thing comes along. If you’re depending an outside source to bring your joy and sense of purpose, it’ll be like a never-ending roller coaster.

Ironically, our intrinsic goals help us become more “extrinsically successful” than our extrinsic goals do. In other words, happy people are more successful in the long run. Think about it: when you pursue your passions and act in alignment with your core values, you are more likely to attract abundance, which can come in the form of money, popularity, and the list goes on.

Remember, intrinsic happiness goes deeper and lasts longer than extrinsic happiness. The best way to find happiness is to look within.


Rose Caiola
Inspired. Rewired.

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