At the beginning of every year, I write down my goals on a piece of paper. I tape it to the inside of a bedroom cupboard door, so no wayward party guest has a chance to see it. But I see it everyday. I also document my progress. It doesn’t take long before that paper looks ratty.

Sometimes, I write other, interpersonal goals, in a little brown book.

My sister-in-law is a psychologist. One day, I shared what I was doing. She told me I was crazy. She said I was trying to control too much. Setting behavioral goals, she said, was a complete waste of time.

But is it?

Gail Matthews is a psychology professor at California’s Dominican University. She studied 267 participants from a variety of professions and ages. She wanted to see if writing down goals influenced achievement.

The participants had different goals. Some of them were business-related. Others wanted to increase their income, work/life balance, reduce work anxiety or learn a new skill.

Dr. Matthews randomly put the participants into one of five groups. Each group committed something different to their goals. The study’s results found that those who wrote down their goals and documented how they wanted to achieve them and shared their progress with a friend enjoyed the highest rate of success.

What Was Each Group Asked To Do?

Group 1

They were asked to think about their goals over 4 weeks. They rated the goals based on perceived difficulty, importance, and whether they had tried to accomplish them before

Group 2

They wrote down their goals and rated them on the same elements as group 1.

Group 3

They wrote down their goals and rated them on the same elements as group 1.

They also wrote down how they were gong to achieve those goals.

Group 4

They wrote down their goals and rated them on the same elements as group 1.

They also wrote down how they were going to achieve those goals and shared those details with a friend.

Group 5

They wrote down their goals and rated them on the same elements as group 1.

They also wrote down how they were going to achieve those goals, shared those details with a friend, and they sent that friend a weekly progress report.

Percentage Of Participants That Reached Their Goals Or Were Half-Way There At The End Of Four Weeks

Group 1 Group 2 Group 3 Group 4 Group 5
43% * * 62% 76%

Goal setting and accountability, it appears, can be a key to a wealthy life. But I prefer Dictionary.com’s sixth definition of wealth. Ironically, it’s labeled “obsolete”.

Happiness.

The 75-year longitudinal Grant and Glueck studies found that "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier." That means spending time with friends and family.

A Purdue University study found a negative correlation between (no surprise here) happiness and debt. That means we should make a strong effort to become debt free.

Elizabeth Dunn, of the University of British Columbia and Michael Norton, of the Harvard Business School wrote Happy Money, The Science of Happier Spending. They referenced a Gallup Poll survey of more than 200,000 respondents from 136 countries. In 120 of the 136 countries, people who dontated to charity in the past month reported feeling happier. Dunn and Norton wrote, “Donating to charity had a similar relationship to happiness as doubling household income.”

A 2013 study at the University of Vermont says exercise also makes us happy. The researchers say, “exercise and movement can encourage socialization, increase self-esteem and energy as well as significantly reduce symptoms of depression and other co-occurring concerns.”

It appears that these goals are definitely worth pursuing:

  • Committ to spending more quality time with family and friends.
  • Pay off consumer debts
  • Donate money to charity
  • Exercise regularly

None of us know how much time we have left. We’re all going to die. Like everybody, I want to maximize my life. That means writing down my goals and sharing them with someone.

As for defining wealth? Perhaps happiness is the only definition that should count.

Andrew Hallam is a Digital Nomad. He’s the author of the bestseller, Millionaire Teacher and The Global Expatriate's Guide to Investing: From Millionaire Teacher to Millionaire Expat.