If I were to ask what your goals are, you would likely give me some quantifiable answer, like earning a certain salary, attaining some specific position within your company, or being in a position to retire by a certain age. We are obsessed with milestones and measurement. And I get it. In business, we like to say, “If it can’t be measured, it can’t be mastered.” We conduct strategic planning sessions and discuss SMART goals, the ‘M,’ of course, standing for “measurable.”
However, if I were to ask what your goals are for your children, what would you say? Nearly everyone I ask gives me a one-word answer without even a second to consider it. We want our kids to be happy. I certainly do. I want them to find joy and meaning in life. I want them to be thoughtful, kind, creative, confident and proud adults. None of these things can be measured.
So, I’m wondering why do we think so differently about ourselves as adults than we do about our children? We seek specific and measurable goals for ourselves and desire beautiful, meaningful and yet nebulous things for our kids. Why the disconnect? Why don’t we allow ourselves to have aspirations that are more difficult to pinpoint when they are achieved? Why are we unable or unwilling to articulate these more meaningful, yet less measurable goals?
One answer is in the way we think about happiness in our culture. For us, happiness is the reward for achieving a goal rather than being the goal itself. It’s true. When we say that our goal is to retire by the age of 65, what we’re really saying is, “I will find happiness, joy and meaning in my life; I will pursue my real dreams once I have achieved the goal of being financially independent.” Financial independence is the goal. Happiness is the reward.
But when I asked about your goal for your children, that wasn’t the answer. You didn’t say that you wanted them to toil away for the next 65 years in a high-stress job, competing doggedly for promotions and raises, putting their careers ahead of their families or personal happiness so that one day, potentially, they could be happy. The goal for our children is simple. We want them to be happy. The goal for ourselves should be the same.
So, my challenge to you is two-fold. First, let’s de-emphasize the importance of making all of our personal goals quantifiable and measurable. Let’s have the confidence to set goals that are loftier, harder to define and yet infinitely more satisfying. And let’s stop thinking of happiness as a reward for achieving some other goal and instead, make it the goal itself.
Remember, years ago, when you were born, your mother looked into your wide, innocent eyes and said the only thing in the world she wanted was for you to be happy. So do what your mother said. Be happy.