PictureThere’s an old saying, “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there.” People who achieve lasting happiness know exactly where they’re going and exactly what There is meant to look like. They can clearly visualize the ideal There, even as they realize that the picture and destination will change over time.

If you want to earn your happiness dividend, you must unify your ideas about There into a full-color picture of your perfect life. By perfect, I do not mean imagining a fairytale life of leisure, complete with a thatched cottage in the middle of dwarf-inhabited woods. Don’t imagine lording over a castle in the sky next door to heaven. There is nothing perfect about some romantic ideal no one could possibly reach. Then again, if things go well, where would you like to be?

To use an example from chapter 15 in my book, Mindful Money: Simple Practices for Reaching Your Financial Goals and Increasing Your Happiness Dividend, aiming to become president and move into the White House is probably a stretch for me, but a life dedicated to public service is not. Some goals take longer to achieve, but attainability should be a key component of the picture you paint of your perfect life. Imagine a brighter future you can actively strive for, not the fantasy of winning the lottery.

This picture of your perfect life is not meant to be something you keep only in your head. Commit this scenario to writing in a present-tense, first-person narrative that describes what your life would be and feel like with as much emotional clarity as possible. Here’s an example:

My family is financially secure, physically fit, and emotionally close. I am self-employed and work out of our comfortable home on an acre of land within an hour’s drive of the Pacific Ocean. Our home is light and airy with room in the backyard to garden and entertain. Pictures of my family adorn the walls. The sound of our children’s laughter and the smell of my spouse’s cooking fill the house. We have two rocking chairs on the front porch and a happy golden retriever.

The picture of your perfect life should reflect your deepest desires and values. As the focal point of your financial plan, it will provide the inspiration for sticking to that plan, day after day. When you feel down about temporary setbacks or frustrated with some aspect of your work or home life, picturing your perfect life will pull you through. If your picture is not compelling enough to excite and encourage you, it’s not about you. Rework it till it is.