Most of my life has been a race to get things I assumed would make me happy. I wanted more money so I could do what I want when I want. I wanted a more meaningful career so I could feel fulfilled and important. I wanted more connections so I could feel respected and valued.
In the end, I ended up with more distractions so I could avoid acknowledging just how unhappy I was with myself. I would lie to myself and tell myself, “I’m just percolating right now. Soon something big is going to pop out, and I’ll help lots of people with it.”
Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Really I was acting as if happiness was somewhere over the next horizon. I’d get there tomorrow.
Or the day after that.
Or the day after that.
Tomorrow, when I’ve grown my platform.
Tomorrow, when things fall into place.
Tomorrow, when I’ve had a good night’s sleep.
Tomorrow, and tomorrow, and tomorrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death.
Here’s what I’ve learned: nothing will ever bring me joy if I consistently attach happiness to something just beyond my reach. What usually happens is that those things just remind me of how empty I feel. There’s this void inside of me that nothing can fill except me.
Have you ever felt this? You’ve got something in your mind, something you desperately want, and you focus all of your energy on achieving it. Maybe it’s a job. A car. A person. And your days become all about getting that one thing. All your thoughts. All your actions. Everything is about getting that thing.
And then you get it, and — for one brief moment — you feel fulfilled. All the pushing, all the planning, all the patience…it was all worth it for that one moment when you finally got what you wanted. And then the moment was gone, and you’re left…empty again.
Chasing after “it” never quite delivers what you’d hoped. There’s always another “it” out there.
There’s no reason not to be happy now. Sure, things aren’t perfect, but come on.
And yet we consistently find excuses for why right now still isn’t good enough.
I’ve come up with four steps to challenge this impulse to always want more, four steps that can actually help you feel better, feel happier, feel more content with your life right now, just the way it is.
First, identify your expectations.
So…you want to be rich. Welcome to the club. Why? Why do you want to be rich? Do you want copious amounts of cash for some specific reason that’s important to you? Do you want to start a hospital in the third world country? Cancer research? Do you want to start your own business? What is it that you think the money is going to buy you?
You don’t really believe that the money itself is going to make you happy, do you?
The crazy thing about our beliefs is that they aren’t always based in fact. Just because you assume that being rich will automatically equal happiness, that doesn’t mean it’s true. Go look at the research. It’s out there. Mo’ money; mo’ problems.
This is particularly true if you’ve trained yourself to believe that happiness is always out of your reach. If you’re not content now, you won’t ever be content. If you’re not generous now, you won’t ever be generous. If you’re unable to experience joy right now — in this current moment — money isn’t going to get you there. Life’s never going to be perfect; stop waiting for that.
Identify your assumptions. Examine them carefully.
Second, question your expectations.
Do some research here. Will what you want really get you what you expect? Has it ever worked for someone else? Do you have a good reason to believe it will work for you?
Answering this is going to require you to know what’s truly important to you. Have you ever tried to codify your core values? Now might be a good time to do that. These days I’m focused on friendships, freedom, adventure, and meaning. Money, in and of itself, won’t create happiness for me unless it supports the things that matter most to me.
For example, I could get a job and work 70 hours a week. That might pay me a ton of money, but it would limit the time I could spend with friends, it would limit my options for adventure. Sometimes the work that pays the best is work that I find meaningless.
Don’t get me wrong. I believe it’s possible to get rich doing work you love. I’d like to give that a shot. But getting rich isn’t my top priority. Cultivating friendships. Being free to make my own choices. Being adventurous and doing meaningful work. Those are more important to me. Those are things I could do without ever become rich.
Third, examine and embrace your present.
It’s good to have goals. It’s good to acknowledge when you don’t like your life circumstances. Maybe you don’t like your job, and you want a new one. Maybe you don’t like your house, and you want a bigger one. Nothing changes if nothing changes, and nothing changes until you look at yourself in the mirror and say, “No more.”
Be careful about your intentions — whether you’re chasing something that will legitimately improve your life, or something that’s a distraction from the discomfort of acknowledging what’s really bugging you. Don’t just look at what you’re doing. Don’t just look at where it’s gotten you. Look at who you’re being — and who you want to be.
Are you filling your days with things that bring you life and joy? Do you have healthy relationships? Do the activities on your daily “To Do” list matter to you?
If the choices you are making create a present that feels unbearable or unsustainable, if they lead to feel powerless — like life is happening to you — you’ll eventually want to escape that present moment and run to a fantasy tomorrow. Which will actually keep you from ever getting there.
Fourth, be the change.
The idea that happiness exists somewhere out there is a lie. Whatever it is you think you need to be really satisfied, don’t wait for it to appear. Go ahead and create it right now.
Want more meaningful work? Volunteer somewhere.
Want better relationships? Call someone. Make plans. Open yourself up.
Want more money? Okay…so you can’t just print your own. That’s illegal. But what is it that the money is going to buy you? Adventure? Travel? Relaxation? Figure out a way to get what you want — the thing that you believe money will allow you to have. When you’re willing to be creative and proactive, you have far more power to live the life you want right now than you know. Right now. Today. Not some day in the future.
Odds are you’ll never stop wanting things. That’s a good thing. When you want something, you make changes, you innovate, you improve. These are good things.
But this is your one and only life. And it’s the only life you really have the power to steer. Everything begins with your beliefs, your feelings, and your actions. Take care of those three things, and you’ll find your way to joy with whatever you already have.