Separating Happiness from Dreams and Dreams from Goals

Not long ago I was chatting with a friend at a party. We hadn’t talked in a while so were catching each other up on life in general. After a few minutes she got this mystified look on her face. She said, “You sound so happy. I never talk to people who are just, you know, happy.”

She’s right. Some focused effort plus a lot of good luck has landed me in a life I like to live on a day to day basis. So yes, I am happy, and I’m happy about being happy.

But being happy doesn’t mean I don’t have dreams.

If someone waved a magic wand and granted me financial independence tomorrow, everything about my life would change. I’d sell my business, move across the country, and set up housekeeping in the high desert somewhere. I’d live out my days on a gorgeous acreage, surrounded by natural grassland, mountains, and no neighbors. I’d write novels, ride horses, spend time with my husband, and chuck the rest of it.

That’s a dream. It will likely never come to pass. It’s something I fantasize about in the shower or when I can’t fall asleep at night. It has no impact on my overall happiness because it’s an impossibility, like living in a self-cleaning house, or being able to fly.

I also have goals. Goals are different from dreams in that they are achievable. Some of them are long-term and lofty – it will take decades and some good luck to reach them at all. Quite a few are closer and more immediately attainable. But all of them are things I can take baby steps towards each day.

Taking baby steps towards my goals is part of what enables me to be happy. Feeling like I’m making progress gives me a sense of fulfillment.

But I have to be careful with goals too. Comparing my real life to the life I’d have if I met all my goals is a good way to make myself restless. For every five minutes I spend thinking about my goals, I spend five hours just enjoying my life.

If I can’t enjoy my life because it’s just not enjoyable, that’s a red flag. If I experience too many days in a row where I find myself feeling unhappy, I come to one conclusion: something needs to change, and pronto. I need to keep changing things until I find a way to be happy again.

Happiness should not be contingent on achieving either dreams or goals. Happiness is about today.

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