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Setting Fun Goals May Make You Happier This Year

Try setting goals based on pure enjoyment rather than self-improvement.

Key points

  • One motivation for goal-setting is the fresh start mindset, the belief that one can choose to reinvent oneself by adopting new goals.
  • Personal goals need not necessarily be about self-improvement.
  • Fun goals may reduce stress and increase motivation to work.

A colleague of mine recently shared that he’s been doing a hundred pushups and a hundred squats each day. I was thoroughly impressed with his commitment, which he maintained even during his jet-lagged business trip. While he seemed pretty determined to go on indefinitely (I'm rooting for you, Matt!), I could not but wonder how long the commitment to such goals lasts for most people. I, for one, learned a long time ago that it doesn't last too long. Yet, we continue to pledge ourselves to pursue new goals, or at the least, think about doing it.

As we approached the end of January 2022 (yes, already), I spent some time musing about the phenomenon of setting goals for the year. I stumbled upon two interesting observations that prompted me to write this blog post.

Is COVID Making People Less Interested in Resolutions?

Although many reasons likely contribute to people’s desire to set goals, one underlying motivation to do so may be linked to what academic researchers have defined as the “fresh start mindset.” The fresh start mindset is a belief that one can choose to reinvent oneself by adopting new goals and new lifestyles for a positive future, a common thought that often arises in us at the start of a new year. As a reflection of this mindset, almost every January, market data show a major spike in gym membership signups, enrollments in dietary programs, or other self-help-related measures (e.g., quitting smoking, learning a new skill).

What’s intriguing is that people seem to have been less interested in thinking about resolutions in the last two COVID New Years, according to Google Trends data. As shown in the chart, people searched significantly fewer times about “New Year Resolutions” on Google in January of 2021 and 2022, a pattern that is consistent with search phrases, such as “resolutions,” “new year’s resolutions,” or “new year goals.” When you stretch the Google Trends data all the way back to 2004, there has never been such a major slump in searching New Year resolutions as in the last two years. And it’s not coming from a loss of interest about the new year, as the search term “New Year” is comparable to those of prior years.

Google Trends
Google Trends data on "New Year Resolution"
Source: Google Trends

While I don’t have an evidence-based explanation on why such dramatic drops happened, it is possible that the ongoing COVID pandemic and its restrictions have reduced people’s motivations to “start fresh.” The prolonged pandemic situation has certainly decreased social interactions that usually elevate the feeling of a new year, and many of us continue to feel bound—directly or subconsciously—by the uncertainties and pressures of COVID, making it difficult to set out positive goals into the future.

Should We Make Having Fun a Goal?

Another interesting observation is that a vast majority of individuals set out “eudemonic” goals—that is, goals that are driven by self-improvement or achievement-oriented motives. The most common ones are about losing weight, quitting smoking, learning a new language, exercising regularly, and others that relate to becoming a “better” person. With such goals, people try to make exercise or learning “fun” in the hopes of maintaining their momentum of progress.

Having done the same before, I understand the value of chasing after virtuous goals—you know, those types that others would noddingly approve of. But as discussed before, we often fall short of reaching them. What if we set goals that are for pure enjoyment or fun? First, you would need to come up with a concrete sub-goal to achieve fun or pleasure. For instance, as a big foodie and wine enthusiast, I set my goals for 2022 to dine at a minimum of five different Michelin-starred restaurants, visit California for winery tastings, and travel to new destinations with extended family in the summer.

Source: Pixabay

While this is an ongoing self-experiment, I’ve already found myself to be in a better mood and less stressed. With clear goals that I know will make me happy, I’m more motivated to tackle daily efforts—whether exercising, eating healthy, or working long hours—so that I can afford to reach my hedonic goals. It has also taken my mind off the restrictions of COVID and made me look forward to the remainder of the year. Time will tell, but at the end of the year, I know I won’t be too disappointed even if I don’t reach all of them.


Price, Linda L., Robin A. Coulter, Yuliya Strizhakova, and Ainslie E. Schultz (2017), “The Fresh Start Mindset: Transforming Consumers’ Lives,” Journal of Consumer Research, 45 (1), 21–48.