Happiness: Should you have GOALS or RESOLUTIONS?

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For my book The Happiness Project, I talked in terms of my “resolutions” – my resolution to “Quit nagging” or “Sing in the morning” or “Make time for projects.”

I’d noticed idly that a lot of people talk instead in terms of “goals.” I’d never thought much about this distinction, but yesterday, it struck me that this difference was, in fact, significant.

You hit a goal, you achieve a goal. You keep a resolution.

I think that some objectives are better characterized as resolutions, others, as goals.

“Run in a marathon” or “Become fluent in Spanish” is a good goal. It’s specific. It’s easy to tell when it has been achieved. Once you’ve done it, you’ve done it!

“Eat more vegetables” or “Stop gossiping,” or “Exercise” is better cast as a resolution. You won’t wake up one morning and find that you’ve achieved it. It’s something that you have to resolve to do, every day, forever. You’ll never be done with it.

Having goals is terrific for happiness. The First Splendid Truth says that to think about happiness, we need to think about feeling good, feeling bad, and feeling right, in an atmosphere of growth. Striving toward a goal gives a tremendous sense of growth.

But it can be easy to get discouraged when you’re trying to hit a goal. What if it takes longer than you expected? What if it’s harder than you expected? And what happens once you’ve reached your goal? Say you’ve run the marathon. What now – do you stop exercising? Do you set a new goal?

With resolutions, the expectations are different. Each day, I try to live up to my resolutions. Sometimes I succeed, sometimes I fail, but every day is a clean slate and a fresh opportunity. I never expect to be done with my resolutions, so I don’t get discouraged when they stay challenging. Which they do.

For example, one of my recent resolutions was “No more fake food.” Have I achieved this goal? Well, maybe—I haven’t had any fake food since I made that resolution. But practically not a day goes by when I don’t fight the temptation. How many times has my hand hovered above a Glenny’s 100-Calorie Brownie? “No more fake food” is a resolution, not a goal.

Do you prefer to set goals or make resolutions?

From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.



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