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Gerry Chidiac“The road is better than the inn,” said Don Quixote author Miguel de Cervantes.

This seems counterintuitive. Don’t we find satisfaction and joy when we achieve our goal? The road is long and tedious. How could that be better than arriving at our destination?

Happiness researchers Shawn Achor and Michelle Gielan say Cervantes is indeed correct. The key to happiness is experiencing joy as we advance toward goals that are meaningful to us.

However, there are several things we need to do then if we want to be truly happy.

The first is to have meaningful goals. We need to work toward something that we feel good about. This could be getting an education, raising a child, winning a championship, growing a business, making it through a difficult situation with our integrity intact or changing the world.

The second thing we need to do is to foster a spirit of gratitude. It’s so important each day to write down or to talk about what we’re thankful for. In doing so, we realize that we’re progressing and that even the smallest step has meaning.

Of course, there will come a time when we achieve our goal. Won’t that be the end of our happiness?

When fostering a broader attitude, we’ll likely find that we become reflective about achieving our goals and set further targets.

National Football League star quarterback Aaron Rodgers, for example, found that after winning the Super Bowl with the Green Bay Packers in 2011 he was not satisfied. He was filled with a desire to use his fame to make a positive difference in the world.

Today, Rodgers is a spokesperson for Raise Hope for Congo and is fostering awareness of horrible crimes against humanity happening in a place that much of the world has forgotten. Although this remains one of the most dangerous places in the world, especially for women, stability is slowly coming to the region.

When we have meaningful goals, we know we can help solve the world’s problems. We know, for example, that through our continued effort, lasting peace will be established in the Congo.

We also need to remember that it takes time to achieve what’s meaningful.

We live in a world of instant gratification: I want this, so I buy it. If I don’t feel like I’m making a significant difference in doing my job today, I must be a failure. If no one likes my post on Facebook, there must be something wrong with me.

In order to achieve true happiness, we need to move beyond this short-term gain mindset.

In working with children and youth, it’s important to remember that we’re making a long-term investment. As we help children celebrate successes along the way, from learning to speak to learning to turn in assignments on time, we’re building the great leaders of the future.

We also need to realize that in achieving our goals, there’s no such thing as failure. Any coach knows that you learn more from losing than you do from winning. If we’re going to be our best, we need to embrace challenges. Things will not always turn out as we planned. As we move forward, we’ll see that this is a good thing.

Have meaningful goals and be thankful for every step along the way. The key to a happy life really is that simple.

As Achor says, “Happiness is the joy we feel as we’re moving toward our potential.” The road really is better.

Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.

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