#642 Nietzsche’s Formula for Happiness

And: Hope and Goals, Science of

As you know, I’m a huge fan of the science of Optimizing. (Ancient wisdom + modern science + practical tools, baby! 🙂)

Today I’d like to chat about one of my favorite topics: The Science of Hope and Goals.

Note: We’ve already explored some of the wisdom from the main researcher in the field (Rick Snyder) and one of his protégés (Shane Lopez) in our +1s on The Psychology of Hope and The Science of Making Hope Happen. <- Those happen to be two of my favorite +1s, so if you haven’t checked them out yet, you might dig them!

Let’s revisit Rick Snyder’s great book The Psychology of Hope for some wisdom on the importance of Goals.

He tells us: “Modern culture sends an implicit message that is a combination of ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ and ‘Feel good about yourself.’ This seductive self-esteem theme leaves us both wondering and wandering; we wonder how we can find the elusive happiness and esteem and wander around trying to find them. If you are looking for happiness and esteem, you will not find them listed under their own names. You are more likely to find these if you look under goals. In fact, happier and high self-esteem people are the ones who have concrete and challenging goals in their lives. The philosopher Nietzsche came to a similar conclusion many years ago when he wrote: ‘Formula of my happiness: A Yes, a No, a straight line, a goal.’”

A Yes. A No. A straight line. A GOAL.

Thank you, Nietzsche.

The science of hope echoes this wisdom. It has three elements: 1. A vision for a better future (aka a goal); 2. A belief we can create that future (aka agency); 3. A willingness to find multiple pathways to achieve our goal (moving through inevitable obstacles via Plan A, Plan B, Plan Whatever-It-Takes).

One more time, just to be clear: Without a goal, we can have no hope.


Today’s +1.

What are YOUR goals?

Rick gives us a bunch of tips to help us construct our optimal goals. Here’s a quick look at a few.

First, we need to focus on “Authoring Our Own Decisions.” We need to let go of the “shoulds” and focus on what we *really* want. That leads to a sense of autonomy which all the research says is SUPER important. (Recall that to be authentic means to be the author of your own life.)

Then he tells us to go “Goal Shopping” and walks us through an exercise in which we write down all the goals we’d like to achieve in all areas of our lives across all time frames. Then we identify the ones that *really* fire us up and focus our energy on them. (Our Big 3 framework of Energy + Work + Love is helpful as a categorization method here!)

Then he tells us to “Control Attention Robbers.” In other words, reduce your distractions so you can focus your energy on what’s truly important.

Then he tells us to make sure we’re “Setting Challenging, Yet Doable Goals.” He describes the science of “goal-stretching.” He tells us: “Goals should not be so far beyond your reach that you are unlikely to attain them. Conversely, goals should not be so easy that you are certain to meet them. In fact, research shows that people believe hopeful goals should involve roughly a 50 percent probability of attainment. … Be careful not to set your goals at such an easy level, however, that you become bored or disinterested. Likewise, avoid making goals so difficult that you or anyone else would be unlikely to achieve them. This can be as deflating to hopeful thinking as the setting of exceedingly easy goals.

And, finally, he says: “If you are balking at my suggestion about clearly defining goals, your vague goals may be contributing to a pattern of low-hope thinking. Remember that clear goals at least set the stage for successful goal attainment. Vague goals, on the other hand, typically preclude any such sense of attainment.


Goals checklist: What’s on the top of your authentic list? Are your goals clearly defined, challenging yet doable—with you stretching and not snapping? And… How are you eliminating distractions?

Well done, high fives, carry on, my Hopeful Goal-setting friend!

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