Happiness, according to the latest psychology research, comes in two distinct flavors. The first type is the simple, fleeting pleasure we get from satisfying a desire. How you feel when you indulge in an ice cream cone or buy yourself something nice, for example.

This sort of happiness feels nice, of course, but science says chasing it generally won't lead to a larger sense of well-being. In fact, pursuing happiness alone often backfires, leaving people anxious and disappointed. To really feel you're living a good life you need the second type of happiness, which comes from feeling that you are engaged in meaningful projects and contributing something to the world.

This is, as we all know, is often easier said than done. In the craziness of raising families, holding down jobs, and making mortgage payments, the larger purpose of life can sometimes be hard to spot amid the chaos, and it's easy to get sidetracked into mere busyness rather than meaningful effort.

So how do you get back on track (assuming that the kids, laundry, and mortgage aren't going anywhere)? One expert is offering an intriguing suggestion.

Time for a personal projects appraisal

The idea comes from a long article on the work of psychologist Brian Little on BBC Future. Little's work investigates the way people's personalities change and evolve when they force themselves to step out of their comfort zones, a process that often gives us great satisfaction. In fact, according to Little's research, happiness basically equals pursuing personal projects that stretch us just enough.

To put this wisdom to use in real life, the BBC recommends a simple exercise based on Little's work:

Take a few minutes to write down your own current personal projects -- for instance, it might be losing weight, being a better pet owner, or writing a book. The list doesn't have to be exhaustive, but as a guide, most people identify around 15 things ...

Now, spend a few moments reflecting on each one, in particular think about its importance and meaning to you; how much it is consistent with your personality and values; whether the project brings you joy or stress and frustration; the origins of the project; whether you share the project with anyone else; how much progress you've made; and how confident you are about ever completing it.

The purpose of this exercise is to identify a handful of projects that meet all the criteria for meaning and happiness: they're achievable, you're pursuing them because you want to and not because anyone else wants you to, and they demand you to stretch and expand your personality (for instance, an introvert pursuing a project that demands public speaking).

By assessing your projects on these dimensions, you can eliminate any that are making you feel hopeless and ramp up those that are a good bet to give your life a greater sense of meaning. Check out the complete post for a ton more details, as well as insights on how to restart stalled projects.

Published on: Feb 9, 2017