The Secret to Fulfillment: Untangle Your Happiness from Your Results

By now you know I’m a big advocate of setting crazy, unreasonable goals.

Big goals are how you generate the energy and excitement to actually make things happen. And for this reason, I believe you’re way more likely to achieve the “unrealistic” goal (that inspires you to no end) than you are the one that’s more modest (and therefore, not that exciting).

But a lot of people get stressed out when I talk this way.

Unrealistic? That means I’ll be chasing this goal that I might never get. And even if I do one day make it happen, it’s going to take a really long time and a whole lot of work.

I’m not mocking. Even those who have created massive change in their lives, people I really respect, sometimes question whether goals are a good idea at all.

After all, if your happiness depends on achieving goals, then you might not be happy in the meantime. And because the finish line is usually illusory — as soon as you reach a goal, you set your sights on a new one — there’s no point at which you can finally stop, take a breath, and enjoy.

Is Life a Journey, or a Destination?

I’ve struggled with this for a while. On one hand, there’s nothing better than that moment when your heart skips a beat at the realization that, yes, you’re going to make this crazy thing happen, no matter what it takes.

On the other, I understand how easy it is to forget to just be. To enjoy what is, to be grateful, to love — and to be fully present in the moment, completely detached from what might or might not happen in the future.

So what’s the answer? Happiness now, or a vision for later?

I believe you can have both. More than that, I think if you want to want to be truly fulfilled, then you need to have both.

And here’s how you can have it all.

How to Be Happy While You Chase Your Goals

The solution, I think, is something Vishen Lakhiani calls flow. You’re working hard to the make your compelling vision for the future into something real, but it’s not stressful. Instead, it keeps you focused, mindful, present.

It makes you happy, now.

This is an attractive solution, no doubt. And I think most of us can remember a time when we were in this state of flow. When the work we were doing — training for a marathon, building a business, losing a bunch of weight — was so exciting that even though it was hard, there was a certain ease in it.

When you’re in flow, the goal brings you joy even before it’s accomplished. That joy in turn helps you to make progress on the goal, which leads to more joy, which leads to more progress, and so on and so on.

It’s easier said than done, of course. Most of the time, most of us don’t feel this way about our work, our training, or our weight. Most of the time, it’s stressful.

So how do we get that positive feedback loop started?

We do it by being happy, just because. Lessening the stress we feel every day. Fostering joy in our lives. And all in a way that doesn’t depend on progress towards our goals.

Sounds like a tall order, but thankfully, we have ways to do just that.

Meditation. Gratitude. Forgiveness. Mindfulness. Physical activity. Healthy food. Simple daily habits that clearly make us happy, independent of what else goes on in our lives. The external stuff still affects us, but these habits raise our happiness set point, so that how happy we feel fluctuates around a new and higher default level.

The formula, then:

First, find a way to weave these habits into the fabric of your life. The morning is probably the best time to do them, before your day has had a chance to take on a life of its own and before ego-depletion has set in.

A meditation practice (or maybe Vishen’s Six-Phase Meditation, which I’ve been doing recently) will help you with a bunch of the above habits, and you’ll find plenty on this blog to help you with the eating well and exercising bit.

With all of this, you create a foundation of happiness. Through your daily practices, you become content, regardless of whether or not you achieve your goals.

But this doesn’t mean you don’t have goals. Your vision for the future, and your work towards its realization, is a huge source of fulfillment. And because your happiness doesn’t depend on its achievement, the goal doesn’t stress you out and rob you of joy in the present.

In short: your happiness and your results become untangled.

You have goals — massive, compelling, inspiring goals — but you’re not stressed about them. You’re happy with the simplest of things, because you’ve trained yourself to see all that’s good in your life. And that sense of happiness and ease, in turn, allows you to be effective in your work to achieve your vision.

This is flow. Happiness plus vision.

If there’s a secret to fulfillment, this is as close as we’ve gotten to finding it.



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  1. teddybear says:

    Matt, articles like this remind me of why plant based is so much more than a diet or lifestyle choice. It’s about a total awareness and consciousness, about waking up to what we are doing with our lives and in the world. The impact we individually have on a greater or smaller scale. What’s really important in life! I can’t lose any weight at the moment because I have a thyroid problem, and while that was the primary motivation for cleaning up my diet (I was already vegetarian, but…a junk fueled vegetarian 🙂 there is so much more to it than that that I don’t feel it has been a waste of effort at all. In fact, while I would like to be much healthier, it has made me realize that weight has little to do with it – it’s the feeling of treading lightly on the earth, appreciating the wonder of living things in all their forms, so many complex and amazing things…

    I can only say THANK YOU for all you do and all the positivity that helps so many people find a better way in life, whatever that entails. Long live NMA!

  2. This is ringing so true to me this morning. I’m coming off a project ended early. I’m choosing not to deem it a “failed mission” because I raised over $28k for charities which is hardly a failure, but I’m looking ahead to what’s next and what that next goal is and wondering if and when it will be enough. But you’re right, it’s FLOW and for me happiness comes in the process of discovery and pushing myself to the limits and doing something that drives that inner passion. Maybe I just need to sit down and remind myself that I’m fulfilled in the work that I’m doing, even if it’s constantly changing.

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