I Achieved My Goal and I Still Don’t Feel Happy – The Difference Between Values & Goals

I Achieved My Goal and I Still Don’t Feel Happy – The Difference Between Values & Goals

You did it! You got that big promotion, bought a new shiny car, or finally got the engagement ring you’ve been waiting for. Initially you felt excited, but shortly after, those good feelings faded. Wasn’t this achievement supposed to bring lasting happiness?! Instead, it left you asking yourself, ‘now what?

Society teaches us that the way to happiness is by achieving our goals. So, we write our to-do lists and set out to diligently complete tasks, but with each new milestone met, we’re left feeling exhausted and unsatisfied.

How do we find the happiness it seems everyone else has achieved? How do we live a fuller, more meaningful life? 

It’s important to first understand goals and how they differ from values.

Many of us, without realizing it, live a goal-oriented life. Goals are achievable. They can be specific, like a to-do list, or more general, like owning a home in our mid 30’s. Humans are naturally inclined to set goals.

Goals can be powerful motivators, in their own way. If we manage to achieve our goals, we do feel momentary success and happiness, but goals can be misleading because they shift focus from the process to the outcome. When we focus entirely on the outcome, there is going to be a letdown because ultimately the thing we worked so hard for has been attained, and now we’ve got to find something else to bring us momentary joy.

Alternatively, we can focus on our values. Values shape how we want to live our life. Values can be thought of like a compass or a direction. We know we want to head west, but we can’t achieve west.

Although values themselves can’t be achieved, they can impact the actions we engage in for the course of our life. Values can be lived in each moment of our lives and can have a greater impact on patterns of behavior.

Concrete Examples:

If this still sounds confusing, here are some examples that highlight the difference between values and goals:

  • Losing 10 lbs. is a goal. Living a healthy lifestyle is a value.
  • Calling your partner once a day is a goal. Being a loving and caring partner is a value.
  • Completing a project or writing a book is a goal. Doing fulfilling and meaningful work is a value.


Putting It All Together:

The takeaway here is not that setting or achieving goals are bad. Goals are important in life. What we want to do is to keep our goals in perspective.

If we want to live a healthy and long life, losing 10 lbs. may be a part of that. But, we also want to maintain perspective and continue eating healthy and moving our bodies, even after we lose the weight. If we base our actions entirely on our goals, once the goal is achieved, we often revert back to our old ways. We can live by our values forever, attaining a longer lasting feeling of happiness and satisfaction. The work is in shifting the emphasis to the process or the “how” behind achieving these goals.

Let’s look at a current example. If you find that you based your happiness for 2020 on the trips you booked, you may be feeling an intense sense of disappointment and sadness right now. If this is the case, can you shift your thinking to focus on the values behind these goals? By doing so, you may find that what you are actually looking for is much closer than you originally thought.

In this example, perhaps it’s adventure and a calm that you are really seeking. You may be able to find that in a different way with what you currently have. Maybe exploring a new neighborhood in your city or organizing your apartment will provide some solace.

Take some time to look at your goals and re-focus on the “how”. What jumps out at you? Which values do you see repeating themselves? Then, take a moment and ask yourself how you can continue to live by this value in this moment and in the long term. See how you feel and begin to move forward with that vision in mind.

Authored by:  Jennifer Jamgochian, LMSW