Contrary to what people tell you, there are infinitely many types of goals in life. Each one is right for only a few individuals. However, these goals can all be put into two broad categories: higher-level goals and lower-level goals. And while higher-level goals might seem better, lower-level goals are, in fact, more important for everyone.
This is because the achievement of “lower-level goals,” when compared to “higher-level goals,” more often result in sustained feelings of happiness and fulfillment. In this article, we’ll discuss the different types of goals, including what they are, where they came from, and how we can set the right ones. The end result should be more joy at lower levels of output.
Different Types of Goals
A goal can be defined as an object of a person’s ambition or effort. It’s the desired result of someone’s intentional action. Of course, a person’s ambition, effort, or action can be limitless, and so too are the types of goals that people set. However, all types of goals can be categorized as either a “higher-level goal” or a “lower-level goal.”
Both of these goals are the result of a person’s objective, which is the aim or reason for the goal itself. As you’ll see below, higher-level goals are often the consequence of someone’s selfish objective while lower-level goals are the result of someone’s unselfish objectives. For this reason, the achievement of lower-level goals rather than higher-level ones more readily makes a person feel happy and fulfilled.
1. Higher-Level Goals
Higher-level goals refer to goals that are the objective of “esteem,” “self-love,” and “self-actualization,” which are the three highest human needs according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. We’ve been taught since birth that these objectives are the highest purpose of an individual. We all therefore believe that higher-level goals are the best and the most altruistic.
This is because higher-level goals achieve the highest objectives. If self-actualization is the pinnacle of the human needs pyramid, it makes sense that all of our goals should have it as the ultimate focus. For example, “self-actualization” is the act of using all of your skills to achieve the highest levels of success in your chosen arena or field. It’s the final act of self-fulfillment and almost all modern goals point in that direction.
However, until very recently, these higher-level goals weren’t the goals of humans at all. In millennia past, when humanity’s sole focus was survival, there was no such thing as self-actualization, self-esteem, or self-love. In fact, there was very little sense of “self” at all. Instead, everyone worked together towards the common good of family or tribe. People back then only had goals known today as “lower-level goals.”
2. Lower-Level Goals
Lower-level goals are goals that are the objective of biology as well as the need for psychological and physical safety. These lower-level needs are the three lowest levels of human needs according to the Hierarchy of Needs: psychological, safety, and communal love and belonging. Lower-level goals are selfless goals but are often neglected for higher-level alternatives.
These lower-level needs are clearly our most important. However, since modern society fulfills these needs with ease, lower-level goals are often discarded as unnecessary. Think, for example, about how unnecessary it is to worry about drinkable water in a developed country. This thinking causes us to undervalue the necessity of lower-level goals, due mainly to the fact that higher-level objectives are harder to attain in modern society.
But the human psyche was molded in times when all goals and objectives were focused on lower-level goals. Everyone had to work together to prop up the whole. No one could survive without a community that offered safety, shelter, food, and water. People didn’t think about ideas of individualism. In fact, becoming an individual – for example, getting kicked out of a family or tribe – was nothing less than a death wish.
And the human psyche hasn’t changed in over 75,000 years. Take a prehistoric kid from 75k years ago and raise him in the public school system, and he has the same chance of getting straight A’s as you or me. So why then have we shied away from setting lower-level goals, which are selfless in nature, and opted for higher-level goals that are selfish in nature?
Setting the Right Goals and Objectives
Goals and objectives are an interrelated pair of intention, action, and desired result. Some goals have selfless objectives while some goals have more selfish objectives. Goals that fulfill lower-level needs are focused on more than one individual while goals that fulfill higher-level needs are typically focused only on the self. Today, we’re taught that higher-level objectives are better than lower-level ones.
However, the reason why lower-level goals are actually better than higher-level goals is that lower-level objectives mimic the objectives of our ancestors. They place focus not on the self but on the well-being of others. They are selfless goals that make a person feel like a valued member of a community. They are the basic goals and objectives that humans used to focus on – until modern society took care of the lower-level needs.
As a result, people often chase very selfish goals for selfish reasons. For example, climbing the corporate ladder, becoming rich and famous, solo-traveling the world, and much more are all selfish goals. Granted, they sound awesome, and higher-level goals aren’t bad, only that they’re bad if pursued exclusively. This is because higher-level goals and objectives don’t give us a lasting sense of fulfillment. Momentary joy, definitely, but surely not the lasting happiness that lower-level goals can provide.
If you think about it, humans are built to be social. We’ve been bred to have a community-focus. While it might seem crazy today, our ancestors would always put the success of the group over the success of the self. Essentially, humans evolved to get the most benefit out of achieving lower-level goals. This is why we need to make better decisions and realign many of our goals with basic human needs such as group safety and communal love.
Lower-level goals give you a sense of communal belonging. They are selfless objectives that result in lasting joy and happiness for the individual as well as the community as a whole. However, remember that higher-level goals aren’t bad. Esteem and actualization are still human needs. But if you chase these higher-level needs exclusively, you do so at the risk of our psyche.