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Sandeep Gautam
Sandeep Gautam

4 Major Goals of Life

Happiness, success, meaning, and integrity are all worth striving for.

One of the important things about life, which is in limited supply, is the time available; thus, we should all have conscious or unconscious strategies to maximize our allocation of time to achieve some goals that are dear to us.

People differ about the importance or relevance of the below-outlined goals as per their developmental progress and situational context. While some goals may be more relevant at one stage of one’s life, they may lose relevance at another time and place.

It’s universally acknowledged nowadays, given the sweep of positive psychology sensitizations, that one of the most, if not the most, important goal of life is happiness. However, different people mean different things when they talk about happiness.

Seligman, the father of the positive psychology movement, talks about three traditional theories of happiness:

  • Hedonism, which is mostly around raw subjective feelings of pleasure and other positive emotions and can be labeled happiness as used colloquially and relates to a pleasant life.
  • Desire theory, which is achieving what we want to accomplish or, in other words, working towards goals that we hold dear in our heart; being an existential that I am, I think this is related to endowing life with essence or meaning and relates to a meaningful life.
  • Object lists theory, which is making some tangible difference in the real world, is measured by objective measures. This, one could say, is being successful in one’s own and others’ eyes by accomplishing some real-world achievements. This is the successful life.

I want to add to the above another distinction: a moral/ethical life that is filled with integrity and gives rise to a feeling of keeping one’s head high and having minimum catastrophic regrets on the death bed. That deeply felt contentment/ satisfaction, and that of being guilt-free/shame-free, is also desired by many as an end in itself.

Thus, to my naive mind, there appear at least 4 major goals of life that are worth striving for, as an end in themselves: happiness, meaning, success, and integrity.

We have seen happiness contrasted with meaning before in happiness research and it’s amply clear that a happy life may be at loggerheads with a meaningful life; though most likely they are positively correlated.

Recently, Eric Baker contrasted Success with Happiness, claiming saying ‘yes’ opens happiness opportunities by keeping us busy, while saying ‘no’ makes us successful by keeping us focused. I agree and extend the argument that saying ‘maybe’ makes us create meaning in life, by being open-minded and open-to-experience; while saying, ‘No, but maybe someone else can …’ makes us rise above ourselves and have integrity by connecting and helping others. We all have limited time, and need to learn to say "yes," "no," "maybe," and "no, but" whenever needed. None of the goals should triumph or imbalance one part of life and rule over us. We should be firmly entrenched in the driver's seat and know when to value happiness over success over meaning over integrity and vice versa.

Now I would really like to see some empirical research done on the dissociations and commonality between happiness and meaning (say in a for-profit environment); meaning and success (say in a non-profit environment); success and integrity/ethics (say in a business environment), etc., and would be really grateful if some readers can point me to relevant research already done in these directions. I’m sure we intuitively can visualize the tradeoffs involved, but it would be good to see where, and in which situations/domains, these are at loggerheads and where they complement each other.

Also, if you think there are some other overarching goals worth adding to, please feel free to send me comments/emails regarding this.

About the Author
Sandeep Gautam

Sandeep Gautam is a software developer and science writer at The Mouse Trap.

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