How To Be Happy: Identify a goal that you can work towards


Q. 'My life feels aimless and I seem to act on whims, which at the time feels freeing, but later just seems pointless. Can you suggest ways I can get more focus in my life.' B.

Step 1: One of the main attractions of whim-chasing is that delightful feeling of spontaneity that arises when we pursue a desire without really thinking about the consequences. Sometimes this can feel liberating and exciting, taking us to places we might never have otherwise experienced. Mindlessly following our impulses is often a defence against feeling controlled, which is understandable, given how little genuine freedom most of us experience in our lives.

Step 2: To help you become focused, instead of asking yourself "Why not?" when faced with an opportunistic moment, perhaps ask yourself "Why?" The "Why not?" question implies, as Erich Fromm intelligently states in The Art of Being, that we do things because there is no reason not to do it – which gives us a false sense of freedom. Following our urges can often be the result of a deep internal passivity combined with a need to deflect boredom. The more powerless we feel, the more likely we are to seek instant gratification in a quite arbitrary way, which makes it more difficult to develop authentic purpose in our lives.

Step 3: Once we have understood that acting capriciously does not represent genuine freedom we can begin to focus on our sense of purpose and aim, in Kierkegaard's words, "to will one thing". In willing something for ourselves, our energy is not split nor diminished but gains power and resolve as we pursue something meaningful and worthwhile. Identify for yourself one desired goal, something that is manageable and realistic. Break it down into smaller stages, then work towards each step, perhaps giving yourself a timeline to keep up the pace. Once you have accomplished this goal, savour it, then work towards another. Soon you will feel more in control, more authentically engaged in your life and less at the mercy of enactments that leave you feeling empty. You will also feel less ambivalent and more autonomous and passionate in the way you live, which ultimately will always be more rewarding than moments of fleeting self-gratification.

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