The Surprising Truth: Progress Briggers Happiness More Than Achieving Goals - tracker and habit teacher.

In the pursuit of happiness and fulfillment, conventional wisdom often points us towards the horizon of achieving big goals.

We dream, we set targets, and we embark on quests to achieve what we believe will bring us joy—be it a promotion, a new house, or a fitness milestone. However, emerging research and insights into human psychology suggest a nuanced truth: the joy of making progress, of moving forward and growing, often outshines the fleeting happiness of reaching our destinations. It's the journey, not the endpoint, that fills our reservoirs of happiness and contentment.

The Happiness of Progress

The notion that progress towards our goals can be more fulfilling than achieving them might seem counterintuitive at first. After all, our society celebrates outcomes: the winner's podium, the grand opening, the before and after. Yet, the stages between the 'before' and 'after'—the daily efforts, the small victories, and even the setbacks—are rich with potential for personal growth and happiness.

This idea is grounded in positive psychology, which studies what makes life most worth living. Progress provides a sense of movement and growth, reflecting our innate desire to learn, explore, and become more than we were yesterday. When we see ourselves advancing, no matter how small the steps, we experience a profound sense of achievement and purpose. This forward momentum reassures us that we are capable, that our efforts matter, and that we are not stagnant.

The Science of Progress

Researchers Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer have delved into this phenomenon, coining it the "progress principle." Through extensive studies, they discovered that workers feel more motivated and engaged when they recognize progress in their tasks, even on their worst days. This isn't just about big breakthroughs; small wins count too, sometimes even more so. It's the accumulation of these small wins, the daily acknowledgment of moving forward, that fuels our sense of satisfaction and well-being.

Why does progress bring such happiness? Partly, it's because progress signifies improvement and growth. Each step forward is a tangible demonstration of our capability and adaptability. This resonates deeply with our psychological need for competence, one of the three basic psychological needs identified by self-determination theory (alongside autonomy and relatedness). Meeting these needs is essential for psychological well-being and happiness.

progress scientist happiness

Setting the Stage for Progress

How, then, can we harness this insight for greater happiness? The key lies in setting goals that are meaningful and achievable, but also in recognizing and celebrating progress towards those goals. This approach shifts our focus from the distant horizon to the steps we take each day. It encourages us to find joy in the journey, to learn from the process, and to appreciate growth.

This doesn't mean we should ignore our goals. Rather, it suggests reframing them as milestones within a larger journey of personal development. By doing so, we can cultivate a mindset that finds satisfaction in continuous improvement, rather than in sporadic moments of achievement.

Moreover, this perspective empowers us to persevere through challenges. Understanding that progress itself is a source of happiness gives us a reason to keep moving forward, even when goals seem distant or difficult. It reassures us that growth is happening, that we are evolving, and that every effort contributes to our journey of self-improvement.


Ever wonder what fuels enduring joy and fulfillment in life? The answer can be summarized in a single, powerful concept – progress. It's the steady journey of progress that cultivates genuine happiness, far surpassing the fleeting thrill of achievements or material acquisitions. True, long-lasting contentment springs from the awareness that we are continually advancing, evolving, and growing.

However, it's crucial to acknowledge a fundamental truth: while change might happen on its own, progress does not. Genuine progress is the fruit of deliberate and mindful efforts to craft a life brimming with love, a life that excites you every morning with opportunities for growth, contribution, impact, and service.

So, how can one embark on building such a life? The initial step involves recognizing that happiness doesn't require a reason. You can choose to feel good just because.


In the end, it's not just about the goals we achieve but about who we become in the process of pursuing them. The real joy lies in the small steps, the learning moments, and the journey of growth. By embracing progress as a key component of happiness, we open ourselves to a more fulfilling, satisfying, and joyous life journey. After all, happiness is not just found at the destination; it's woven into the path we take to get there.