If you want to be a happier person overall, setting and achieving personal goals is one of the best ways to do it. When you set a goal for yourself, you immediately give yourself a reason to take action (also known as purpose). This alone makes you happier in the process, and when you eventually achieve that goal, you get another dose of joy.

But goals don’t always have to be personal. When you set a goal together with someone you care about, even a small one, your relationship with that person can be enhanced in the same way. I call this the “high-five factor.”

The more times you find yourself high-fiving your partner, the more you’re gonna like each other over time. If you can mutually contribute to a goal that’s big and life-changing (like a financial goal), you’ll be able to reach a whole new plane of appreciation for one another while making your lives better in the process.

When we tell people that we’ve been living in a van together for the past five months, without full-time jobs, while visiting every US National Park, the first question out of most people’s mouths is, “…and you haven’t killed each other yet?!” The largest contributor to our happiness and sanity in this process has been one thing: shared goals.

Start Small and Accomplish Something Together

If you’ve never tried this before, start simple. Pick a small goal you can achieve together today. You don’t have to pick something you both like to do (although it helps). The key is to pick something you’ll get a solid high-five out of at the end, like making a delicious meal from scratch. Everybody likes food, right?

Photo of beans and rice
A couple that makes beans and rice together, stays together!

In long-term relationships, it’s normal for boredom to creep in. By setting out to accomplish something together, you immediately tackle this issue.

To make a meal, you’ll get to discuss what you want to eat, pick out a recipe, buy some ingredients, prep the food, cook it, and eat it — together. The process represents several hours where, at the very least, you won’t be staring at each other and saying, “What do you wanna do?”

Make sure the activity is compartmentalized enough that you each have a distinct role, but connected enough that you’re still working as a team. If you’re making a meal, you could have one person make the sides while the other works on the main dish. Don’t overthink it.

Now, with most goals, the process itself represents work. Not everyone loves cooking just for the sake of cooking. You’re not always going to have fun every second along the way. Recognize that what you’ve set up for yourselves is not just entertainment; it’s a challenge, and you’re going to overcome it together. Learn to laugh at the setbacks, and help each other out along the way. It’s all part of the process. The more struggle there is along the way, the sweeter the payoff feels when you reach the end.

Compound the Effects of Your Accomplishments

Setting a goal just for the sake of achieving something together can be cool, but if what you’re doing represents legitimate effort, you should really be getting something more out of it than just a tasty meal. I mean, you could get that from a restaurant, right?

The goals that are going to really transform your relationship are the ones that compound over time into something greater than the sum of their parts. Continuing with the example of making meals together, there are several bigger goals that could apply.

Maybe you want to make an effort to lead a healthier life. Instead of just making a one-time meal that tastes good, try cooking meals together on a regular basis that meet your nutritional goals. If you can consistently eat good food together, stamp out boredom in the process, and slowly but surely trim your waistlines and become healthier, you’re gonna be high-fiving each other the entire time.

What if, instead of losing weight, you want to save more money? You could shift the focus from making arbitrary meals to explicitly choosing to make food below a certain price threshold each week, and then replace your weekly date night at an expensive restaurant with this new goal in mind. You could even keep a cumulative record of how much money you’ve saved in the process and take pride in adding to it each week. That would feel a lot more exciting over the long run than just eating good food.

Go Even Bigger with Setting Your Goals

The accomplishment of any shared goal can be a relationship win, but for us, the ones that have consistently kept us inseparable and bright-eyed have been the huge ones. Once you’ve accomplished a few small goals together, try to do something big together. Really big. In fact, I would recommend doing something so big that you don’t know anyone else who’s done it.

For us, the primary goals of this “big” type have been travel-, money-, and business-related.

Our most recent “gigantic” shared goal is to visit and photograph every US National Park during 2019 (we’re on track to reach the last park in August). At first glance, this might look like a fairly short-term goal since our entire trip is only scheduled to be about seven months long. However, this goal started long before 2019 because we had to be in a financial position to even attempt it first.

Photo of Lauren and Steven at National Parks

From going to work and earning an income, to reducing our expenses in small ways, to tracking our net worth every month, to mapping out this adventure and overcoming the little challenges along the way, this one trip has been a crazy, multi-year process that we’ve both struggled to achieve. But it’s also caused us to high-five one another more times than we can even count.

Update, August 2019: Goal accomplished…We did it!

In addition to travel and financial goals, we also work together. Besides our separate “day jobs,” we’ve run a photography business as partners for the last decade, and now we write this blog! Being business partners with anyone can cause a little conflict from time to time, but all in all, it’s caused us to come much closer together.

But…Choose Your Shared Goals Carefully

There are a million possibilities for big shared goals, but my top recommendation when choosing one is to make sure it’s something that will enhance your lives overall in the long run. This is usually something hard that involves some level of up-front sacrifice.

One goal of this type that we’ve seen other couples successfully take on together is to become completely debt-free. This is a fantastic shared goal that is very trackable along the way and has life-altering benefits. But it’s also an excellent example because it has a shady counterpart that’s worth pointing out: the “un-goal” many couples fall for of achieving more debt together to make luxury purchases.

When you take on debt to buy something like a new car, you’re actually putting the payout (the car) before the hard work required to get there (paying for the car), and that could be a psychological and financial recipe for disaster.

Regardless of what goals you choose for yourselves, just try to make sure you’re getting fulfillment out of the effort required to get there all along the way. Remember, if you’re high-fiving after a tough job well done, you’re probably doing it right.

Photo of us at Waimea Canyon
Hiking around Waimea Canyon — “the Grand Canyon of the Pacific.”

— Steven

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