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.

Arts and Entertainment
filmPoldark production team claims innocence of viewers' ab frenzy
Life and Style
Google marks the 81st anniversary of the Loch Ness Monster's most famous photograph
techIt's the 81st anniversary of THAT iconic photograph
News
Katie Hopkins makes a living out of courting controversy
people
Voices
All the major parties are under pressure from sceptical voters to spell out their tax and spending plans
voices
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and artistic director Matthew Warchus at the Old Vic party to honour Spacey
theatreStar's successor at Old Vic theatre admits he's 'allergic to hype'
Life and Style
life + healthVirginia Ironside's dilemma, during Depression Awareness Week
Arts and Entertainment
The median income for professional writers is just £10,432, less than the minimum wage
booksSurvey reveals authors' earnings
News
i100
Life and Style
fashion
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Day In a Page

Revealed: Why Mohammed Emwazi chose the 'safe option' of fighting for Isis, rather than following his friends to al-Shabaab in Somalia

Why Mohammed Emwazi chose Isis

His friends were betrayed and killed by al-Shabaab
'The solution can never be to impassively watch on while desperate people drown'
An open letter to David Cameron: Building fortress Europe has had deadly results

Open letter to David Cameron

Building the walls of fortress Europe has had deadly results
Tory candidates' tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they seem - you don't say!

You don't say!

Tory candidates' election tweets not as 'spontaneous' as they appear
Mubi: Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash

So what is Mubi?

Netflix for people who want to stop just watching trash all the time
The impossible job: how to follow Kevin Spacey?

The hardest job in theatre?

How to follow Kevin Spacey
Armenian genocide: To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie

Armenian genocide and the 'good Turks'

To continue to deny the truth of this mass human cruelty is close to a criminal lie
Lou Reed: The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths

'Lou needed care, but what he got was ECT'

The truth about the singer's upbringing beyond
Migrant boat disaster: This human tragedy has been brewing for four years and EU states can't say they were not warned

This human tragedy has been brewing for years

EU states can't say they were not warned
Women's sportswear: From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help

Women's sportswear

From tackling a marathon to a jog in the park, the right kit can help
Hillary Clinton's outfits will be as important as her policies in her presidential bid

Clinton's clothes

Like it or not, her outfits will be as important as her policies
NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders