As far as anyone knows, we all have just one chance at life. So, it’s only natural that we would want to make the most of that chance. For many people, ask them what their ultimate goal is, and they might say “happiness”.

It feels good to be happy. Happiness helps us to broaden our own thinking and connect with other people. Being happy is also good for our health: it strengthens our immune systems, combats stress and reduces our blood pressure subsequently prolonging life.

But while being happy is a good thing, the pursuit of happiness could be bad for us. As a culture, we have become obsessed with happiness but our desire for happiness makes us less likely to enjoy the positive feelings that we do experience and can even make us feel lonelier. So, whilst being happy is great for connecting with others, wanting happiness can have the opposite effect.

One of the main reasons for this is that we look for happiness in all the wrong places. We are living in a world that is saturated with advertisements telling us that we just need “this” or “that” to be happier and so we strive for bigger houses, better cars and the latest iPhone. We spend time, money and energy on things that we don’t really want – let alone need. Instead of living in the moment, we view happiness as some kind of future state that needs to be achieved

One of the things that often comes up for a client in a coaching session is that they feel like they are pedalling really hard and not getting anywhere. I ask them what their destination is and they don’t know. They are pedalling down a path but they don’t know where they’re trying to get to.

For lots of us, not knowing what we want starts early. When we are children and people ask us what we want to do, we have big dreams like ballerina, astronaut, author and my personal favourite “a white horse called Jessica”. But somewhere between the ages 11 and 18, the focus shifts from what makes us happy to what is sensible and “grown-up”. Twenty or thirty years later, we wonder why we aren’t happy. But the good news is that you can still make changes and live a fulfilled life.

Purpose, Values, Goals, Vision and Strategy are some of the topics that I work through with my coaching clients. As Michaela Haas noted in a recent post, “There is a difference between happiness – temporarily having our needs and goals satisfied – and finding and fulfilling our life’s purpose”. Getting familiar with yourself will help you to make stronger decisions and reach your goals faster – personally and professionally.

Before setting goals to improve our lives, we need to know what we want to know. Goals need to come from within. They need to be based on our purpose, values and vision for life i.e. the person we want to be, the life we want to live and the impact we want to have. When we set our goals in this way, we are giving ourselves permission to be authentic.

Visualisation is another powerful tool and the more effort we put into it, the clearer the picture becomes. Meera was a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Liverpool. She felt stuck and was wanting to make changes in her life. Gaining more understanding about her values and where she was not honouring them helped Meera to understand why she was so unhappy and what she needed to change to move forward and feel fulfilled. I asked her to do a visualisation exercise and tell me where she would like to be in one year. She wrote that she wanted to be in a new job, looking for a new home and living in a new city. Eighteen months after coaching, it had all come true.

So, what we need to be looking for is not happiness but fulfilment. Most people believe that they will never really have the life that they want because it’s too hard or requires too much sacrifice.

The truth is that it is possible when you know what you want. When you know what you want you can start to declutter your life and remove anything which does not contribute to your goals or add value. You can use the time to spend more time with the people you care about and doing the things that make you feel fulfilled.

Benefits of knowing what you want

1. More mental and physical energy

Revisiting the pedalling analogy… once you know what path you need to take, your route will be more direct. You won’t be spending so long pedalling along a path that is heading in the wrong direction.

What really matters is what you are trying to achieve and the actions you are taking to get there. Getting clear on what you want will help you know when to say “yes” and when to say “no” so that you have more time to enjoy other aspects of your life. Self-care is an important part of the journey to fulfilment.

2. Effective not efficient, quality not quantity

When we are not sure what we want, we can end up striving for efficiency rather than effectiveness. Here’s the difference:

Efficient: achieving maximum productivity with minimum wasted effort
Effective: successful in producing a desired or intended result

Effective people care less about the quantity of work that is done and more on the quality of the work. But if we have passion for what we do, the quality of what we do will be greater.

3. Work life balance

The goals we make should not just be professional. There is more than one area of your life which is important and focussing all of our time and effort on just one area can leave us feeling drained and unfulfilled.

Getting clear on what is important to you can help you to ensure that you make time for those activities that you enjoy. The Wheel of Life is a great activity to help you to determine the areas that you need to work on.

4. Better relationships   

As a result of having more mental and physical energy, as well as having stronger work-life balance, you will have more time to spend on your relationships. Having meaningful relationships help us to be the best version of ourselves.

5. Increased confidence

Achievement comes from completing the tasks, goals and challenges that we set for ourselves and a great deal of our confidence comes from achievement. Once you are doing that the things that are important to you, these achievements will mean so much more.