Fiona Cosgrove explores the second of the three things that people most crave in their life. This time it’s the need for achievement.


In my last article, I examined how we all have an intrinsic need for control in our lives, and explored how this can drive our behaviour. ‘A control freak’ is a term often used to describe those with a strong need to be able to predict their environment.


The second ‘drive’ that is mentioned by many social researchers is the need for achievement.


We all like to achieve things, but have you ever noticed that often when we accomplish a milestone (e.g., finish an exam, run a marathon, lose 5kg) the elated feeling doesn’t last very long?


American psychologist Martin Seligman, modified his definition of happiness and wellbeing to include ‘achievement’ as one of the ingredients required in the recipe for a happy life. Those of us who feel motivated by ticking things off a to-do list will probably breathe a sigh of relief knowing we are on the right track! These lists can provide a sense of purpose and, if we take the time to acknowledge and enjoy the sense of satisfaction when we finish those tasks, can also enhance our overall wellbeing.


It’s important to realise that ‘achievement’ can mean different things to different people. But what we can safely say is that achievement requires some type of ‘to-do’ list; this may be more commonly referred to as ‘goal-setting’. 


The interesting thing about goals is that they have a positive link with success meaning, people who set goals are more likely to succeed than those who don’t. Having a plan or a time frame in which to perform certain tasks that lead to a specific end result, requires commitment. And it works better than when we don’t have any clarity about what we want to achieve.


The problem is that many people believe success brings happiness, when the truth is, it actually may not.


By this I mean, if you pin your happiness on succeeding at all costs, but you don’t actually allow yourself to feel satisfaction along the way, then you run the risk of ending up with a very empty feeling once you achieve the overall outcome. In other words, it is as important to enjoy the journey as it is to arrive at the destination. For example, very often we hear people talk about losing weight – going on strict diets that will involve discomfort and deprivation – because they believe it is a means to an end. However, strict diets typically end in a temporary loss of body weight and short-lived pleasure, which is soon reversed when we become tired of feeling deprived.


So yes, give yourself something to aim for, but ensure that the steps along the way have a distinct degree of enjoyment, and that you give yourself plenty of opportunities for satisfaction (and box ticking) along the way! Having goals is more important than attaining them, and the methods (or behaviours) we choose to reach those goals are the most crucial factor that will influence our happiness.


Check out Part 3 of this article series on ‘The 3 Things That Drive Us’.