Modern culture is full of ‘fool’s gold’; there are so many shiny promises to distract us and make hollow promises of success and satisfaction. However, the reality is more often than not quite the opposite. The mass media tells us that if we are rich, if we have a nice house filled with things, a nice car, if we are thin, eternally young, dressed expensively, made up flawlessly; that these things are what will make us happy and accomplished.
Psychologists have established that there are three main things that contribute to a person’s happiness and well being. These are the basic principles of a concept known as ‘self determination theory’. This theory exemplifies the difference between having intrinsic versus extrinsic goals that lead to your eventual happiness. Aiming for material wealth, unattainable youth and other people’s approval (extrinsic goals) is misleading and ultimately shallow, leaving you dissatisfied. Focusing instead on virtues you can embody beyond the material; those that allude to your character, emotional maturity and altruism (intrinsic goals) give you the tools to experience a more rich and meaningful life.
The three principles of self determination theory are as follows:
Research quoted in Business Insider Australia suggests that intrinsic goals, our internal desires and qualities are what need to be nurtured in order for happiness to be manifested and made permanent in our lives.
“The results: The folks who realised (sic) their intrinsic goals had high levels of happiness, but the people who attained their extrinsic goals didn’t have an improvement in their subjective well-being. The authors theorize that they might feel momentarily satisfied after reaching such a goal, but it doesn’t last.” Drake Baer, Why Chasing ‘Extrinsic Goals’ Can Wreck Your Happiness, Business Insider Australia.
Aiming for instant gratification over long term goals, not only sets people up for failure, it exhausts their efforts and robs them of their desire and motivation to seek happiness. They settle for being miserable instead.
When you feel like a person who is in charge of their own life; who can make autonomous decisions and has the freedom and independence to be your most authentic self, your path to happiness is mapped out. People who feel that they have a voice and a presence, who are not bound or restricted by convention or others’ expectations are simply happier.
We are born with certain traits and abilities that can determine what some people call our ‘destiny’. However we all want opportunity. Equal access to education, to free movement, to employment, to basic human needs like shelter, food, water and safety. Happiness is determined by how freely we can acquire not only survival skills, but competence and being accomplished at skills that we not only need to survive, but also desire. Skills that allow us to express ourselves intellectually, artistically, politically and comically. Learning new things increases happiness.
The way we interact with others in our lives is the most important factor to our happiness. Without realizing it, most people have relationships purely out of obligation. It is only the strongest people who truly experience pure connections with like minded people. If you conquer the first two traits and are self determined and evolved, you start to identify the toxic people in your life and you make changes. The more your intrinsic goals are achieved, the more naturally and easily you shed the people who are holding you back in your life. The ones who rob you of your happiness. We often feel obligated to family, relatives, old friends, work colleagues; people who we don’t necessarily choose to be in our lives, but who are there simply by chance. True happiness is achieved when you develop the maturity to understand that you have the right to determine the people who are worthy of you and who deserve a place in your life.
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