You hardly ever hear anyone talk about goals in a negative context. Goals are almost always perceived to be good. But there are goals that add no real value to your life when achieved yet consume valuable resources. So, how do you know when a goal is good or bad?
Good goals create long-term happiness when achieved. They allow you to grow as an individual and alter your behavior in a positive way. An example of a good goal would be to lose 20 pounds. Setting a weight loss goal often involves a daily regimen of exercise, healthy eating and encourages a healthy lifestyle. Good health results from exercising and eating right. It may also motivate you to moderate your consumption of alcohol or to quit smoking. When the weight eventually comes off you enjoy the compliments, feel healthier and all of this creates lasting happiness.
Bad goals create short-term happiness when achieved. They do not help you grow as an individual, they do not produce long-term benefits and, as such, do not result in long-term happiness. An example of a bad goal would be to own a Ferrari. In order to own a Ferrari you must make more money. Making more money will likely involve either more work or taking excessive financial risk (i.e. gambling). There’s a cost-benefit to working more – you see less of your family. Don’t misunderstand me here. Working more to make more money can be a good thing. But where the goal goes south is when you then use that money to buy stuff, like a Ferrari. The happiness you derive from owning more or better stuff will fade over time, since happiness derived from buying stuff is always short term. You will eventually revert back to your genetic happiness baseline and, after a few weeks, the Ferrari will no longer create lasting happiness. The lost time with the family, however, can never be recouped. If the goal, instead, was to judiciously invest that extra money you earned into a calculated risk, such as a side business, an investment or a vacation home that would enable you to spend more time with your family, then it transforms the “work more/earn more” goal into a good goal.
The benefits of achieving a goal should create some long-term benefit or result in long-term happiness: more time with the family, more personal growth, financial independence, improved health, etc. When the achievement of a goal is to buy more and better stuff, it’s a bad goal. It’s a wasted investment. Be careful of the goals you pursue. Not all goals are created equal.