How To Create A 5 Year Plan For Happiness

five-year plan happiness on retreat!

It was the perfect retreat that had been designed just for me.

In fact, I designed it. And it all took place within the confines of my apartment, with a few detours to the gym and a favorite brunch spot and cafe.

I knew that right now, before my busy fall is launched, with all of the dreams and ambitions that I am working on, I needed some quiet time, some “me-time,” some time to be sure I was clear about what I intended to create, and had action steps in place to create it.

Granted, I love planning, dreaming and scheming, which is probably why I am a writer and life coach. I’m happy living in that space of envisioning and creating what I most what in the future, living it in my mind first. Yet it is important for our future happiness and success to do this. Many research studies show the power of “visioning,” or being able to see our dreams coming true before they actually do.

And research also shows that it’s important to plan in order to create a happy future. While on the elliptical machine at the gym during my self-created retreat, I read an article in SELF magazine about the benefits of spending time planning:

Even if you’re skeptical that it’s possible (and beneficial) to plan for something as hard to define as a happy life, research says it’s wise to try: A 15-year study of 3,500 people by Melbourne University finds that the happiest folks have clear-cut goals, both short- and long-term, in a variety of areas, including friendship, love and helping others.

So making a plan actually increases our odds of happiness.

A 5 Year Plan for Happiness –

Here is another excerpt from the SELF article explaining  the importance of having a plan for our lives:

“If you don’t devise a plan, you may end up living by default–letting things happen to you, instead of making them happen,” says Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. “To become happier in a lasting way, you need to keep working toward meaningful goals,” adds Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., author of The How of Happiness.

Notice she says work toward them rather than achieve them. It’s not all about setting goals, attaining them and–voilà!–you’re thrilled. It’s about the joy of striving. “When we hit a milestone, the good vibes don’t usually last. We adapt,” Lyubomirsky says. The fact that humans don’t stay satisfied makes evolutionary sense: “Dreaming up new challenges keeps giving us hits of happiness,” she says.

I love it that Lyubomirsky stresses the importance of working on goals.

To make sure you are increasing your own odds for happiness and living your dreams, why not create your own five-year plan if you haven’t already?

Here are 4 suggestions from that SELF magazine article about just how to do so:

1. Look back and learn. Jot down 5 past accomplishments you love thinking about.

“Reminding yourself of these triumphs will make you feel more competent and confident, traits that help predict whether you’re likely to lead a contented, satisfying life,” Miller says. I love reflecting on the team victories I scored playing volleyball and soccer in high school.

2. Brainstorm like crazy. Set a stopwatch for 10 minutes and list everything you want to do in your life, however out-there or ambitious, without holding back.

Having trouble filling the page? Ask yourself three questions to focus your thoughts:

(a) Is there anything I’ve left unfinished that I’d like to complete?

(b) Are there classes I’d love to take or skills I’m dying to learn?

(c) Are there ways I want to give back to others?

You’ll end up with a master list to get you started; it’s what you’ll use to craft a more concise, focused plan.

3. Reflect on regret. Scan your mega-list and ask yourself, If I’m exactly where I am today five years from now, which of these goals would I most regret not pursuing?

The answer to this question will help you edit your list to the most meaningful aims. Why five years? That’s long enough to make major strides but short enough to imagine how you want your life to look. (Try conceiving of a 25-year plan and you’ll see why.)

Still having trouble narrowing down your list? Look for recurring themes to help you decide what to keep and what to ditch. Maybe cooking-related dreams such as throwing fabulous dinner parties and becoming a master baker come up repeatedly–take notice! They could lead you to take a cooking class, enroll in culinary school, then land a job as a chef. But even taking a small step (signing up for a few hours of instruction in the kitchen) may be enough to lift your spirits.

4. Dissect your top goals. Next, investigate why certain ideas, such as spending more time with family, doing something creative or traveling to exotic locales, made it on your plan.

For each, ask yourself, Is this something I want for myself or something others want for me? What will achieving it do for me? How will it make my life more fulfilling? In what ways will it help me create my ideal existence? Write your answers next to each goal. Once you understand the reasons for your ambitions, you’ll feel even more motivated to pursue them.

I don’t know about you, but when I’m focused on achieving something, and in action on it, it just feels good.

It feels good to make progress on my book. It feels good to work on the branding for my life coaching business. It feels good to work out and eat right, knowing that in doing so I’m continuing to get in better shape, which gives me more energy and helps me to feel sexier.

No matter where I end up five years from now, working on my current goals feels rewarding to me. And I trust that life has “this or something better” in store for me when I’m working towards my dreams.

five year happiness and lazy summer!

Still Lots to Accomplish!

I haven’t yet finished the book, gotten the coaching Website up yet, or hit all of my fitness targets. If I’ve met the man of my dreams, he hasn’t yet revealed himself as “the one” for me. However, I do feel like I’ve been slowly making progress on all the major goals: health and fitness, love relationship, completing the book, and building my business.

And the progress is what counts, and just moving forward feels good. Simply working on the goal of being in my best shape ever makes me feel sexier and better.  Simply moving forward with my business goals shows me that I care about my dreams and will make them happen.

And, as I like to tell my life coaching clients, I always believe it’s “this or something better.” If when working towards my dreams, I take a new direction that feels like a better course for my life, that’s fine too! I trust that as long as I am working on my own goals and happiness, the universe will also always support me in making even better things happen than I initially could have ever imagined!

Can you jump in and spend a few minutes on your five-year plan this week? Let me know how it goes! To your happiness…


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Lisa is a freelance writer, consultant and life coach. She has her BA in English and Creative Writing from Princeton and her MPA from Harvard. Lisa recently finished the first draft of her book manuscript, Burning Down the House. Her dream is to publish this first book and teach the world how to discover their hidden joy. Her post day is Tuesday.
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Latest posts by Lisa Powell (see all)

  • A list… where’s my list?

    A 5-year-plan ….hmmmm. My sn has been my excuse so far …. it may be time to change that.

    8 Women Dream will sure be rockin”!


  • When I think about where I was 5 years ago, I am so surprised at how many things have happened for me and to me. No regrets, just a sense of what to be intentional about moving forward. Great post. xo Rem