I’m currently seeing a young University client who came to his first therapy session with me presenting with one goal:
‘I just want to be happy.’
Now, looking at this goal, how achievable and sustainable do you think this goal is?
Think about it: ‘I just want to be happy.’
In therapy, I call this goal a ‘dead-man’ goal, because it’s only really achievable when we are no longer living; when we have no responsibilities, no every day worries, no bills to pay.
If you have been battling Moderate to Severe Anxiety and/or Depression for years, this may truly be your only goal: ‘I want to be happy again.’ Your mind would have been focusing on the negatives in life, failing to see the positives.
But imagine being ‘happy’ 100% of the time. What would that mean? Would you be going around with a big smile on your face? Or what would that mean to you? To me, the thought of being happy all the time sounds exhausting.
So let’s think about this goal.
First thing we had to do was to figure out what happiness meant to this young client.
He was quiet for a while, deep in thought.
Then he said:
‘I guess I wish I was like my friend Dave.’
Now that’s a good start. My client started to see that the goal ‘happiness’ is not a correct goal to work with. It’s usually impossible to imagine we’d ever achieve that or even what that would mean. We needed to break it down into what it really meant for my client, and those would be solid goals to work with.
Often, when we wish to be ‘happy’, we look at other people and wish we had their money, their homes, their other half, their well-behaved children. This is called ‘modelling on others’.
So we started to look at what it was that he admired about his friend. My client listed things like, ‘popularity, effortless good grades at school, beautiful girlfriend’.
We then took a look at his own life. How did he see these traits fitting into his own life?
We finally had good goals to work with emerging. My client started to see a hope that his goals were achievable, rather than having this one seemingly impossible goal- ‘happiness’.
In my practice, we always work with SMART goals to enable us to apply Cognitive Behavioural Therapy and Coaching tools successfully.
We were able to come up with long-term goals to start with; then we’ve broken these down into a number of manageable, short-term goals that were easy to observe and manage.The results would be measured using a range of tools that I have to my disposal, and we would be building on the weekly feedback, adjusting the methods we’re using and adding to my client’s resources as and when needed.
What we will be also doing during our therapy time together is regularly looking at the goals we’ve set, and see if they are still the ones my client wants to achieve. It wouldn’t surprise me if they changed; we just need to validate the new goals when they emerge.
So take a look at your own life. Do you also have the ‘happiness’ goal?
Don’t worry if you do- it’s very common. It’s time to break it down into what it really means to you. Set as short-term goals as possible, as these are the easiest to work with. Decide how you’ll measure results.
Also, imagine yourself being ‘happy’. Let’s say you’d want to achieve your ‘happiness’ goals that were, of course, broken down specific goals to work with, within 6 months’ time.
Describe the person you see. How does he act? How is he perceived by others? What do you see him doing. where is he in terms of professional and personal life?
Don’t be vague- be as concrete as you can.
I’ll end this article with my favourite quote from the movie ‘Evan Almighty’.
The story is about Evan, who was asked by God to build an arch. As a result , he lost his job and his wife with children moved out.
God appears in front of a wife, asking what’s wrong. She explains that the husband is building an arch. She asks God, ‘What do you do with that?’
‘I’d look at it as an opportunity. If people pray for happiness, do you think God gives them happiness in buckets? No, he gives them an OPPORTUNITY to be happy.’
I really couldn’t agree with this more. Figure out what it is that happiness means to you, and work on achieving it.
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