aka how to be thankful for what you have while you work towards what you want.
Most of us have big aspirations for the future and if you’re anything like me, you are always looking for the next thing to work on or area to improve your skills or knowledge in – both personally and professionally.
Is this you? Always in search of an “elusive happiness” and think of it as something that will happen to you after reaching a certain point in your life?
I think a lot of us are that way, but in my experience this is the wrong approach.
You can learn to be happy with what you have in life. It’s all about your attitude.
Maybe you want to learn a new language, master the trumpet—or heck, I don’t know – write a book? Even with a goal like this in mind, there’s always a force pushing you to jump to another project as soon as the previous task is done. You don’t want to waste a single day of your life feeling as if you didn’t accomplish something meaningful.
I totally get that, but ask yourself this.
Did you take time to stop and think about what you’ve accomplished after each project and after each win? Are you taking a moment to appreciate what you have created, learned, or considered how you have bettered yourself?
Even the tiniest improvements in our lives bring enormous changes over time and each one of those tiny changes is worth taking a moment to appreciate when you’ve achieved it. Too often, though ,we move from one accomplishment to another without soaking in the wins.
How I figured out what true happiness really is
A while back I was on one of my routine long walks and had an personal epiphany. I felt like something just clicked.
Even though I’ve heard the idea that you should just be happy with what you have, I never truly got it until that moment. This time, I felt it on a deeper level.
I realized that I only have now. I realized that you need to learn how to be happy with what you have in this very moment.
I realized that if I always look into the future and am working towards a new thing – that “perfect future” – I will miss most things happening today. I always thought that I had been living in the present, yet I hadn’t. At all.
Don’t get me wrong. Living for now doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn new things or have something to look forward to in the future. You absolutely should!
But you shouldn’t allow yourself to believe that the one thing you are chasing is the one magical addition your life is missing.
If you forget to be present as life happens, nothing will change as you get older. You will always use all your energy working towards something better – your goal post for happiness will be an ever moving target.
Think about something that you worked extremely hard to achieve as a means to find contentment, fulfillment or happiness. Was the feeling in the end as glorious as you thought it would be?
How to find your own version of contentment
These are a few of the practices that I exercise every day to help me to be more content with what I have while I work to get what I want.
I make every effort to truly appreciate each seemingly unimportant moment that comes my way.
I try to look for the upside in even the most seemingly negative things. When something doesn’t work out the way I wanted, I try not to blame myself or look for others to blame but rather objectively observe the situation and find ways that I can do better next time. This puts me in the driver seat and it keeps me learning as I go (easier said than done!).
When I am looking forward to something in the near future, such as a trip somewhere, I try not to let it consume my thinking. Otherwise I miss all the days leading up to it, which is usually half the fun.
When I hear a song that moves me, I stop and take it all in. I try to appreciate that someone put in the work to make this amazing piece of music.
Each time I get home, one of my cats sprints to the door to greet me, in a very un-cat like way. It’s weird but awesome at the same time. And no matter how tired, hungry or irritable I might feel, I take a minute or two to pat him until he has had enough. Because one day he won’t be there.
I’ve also been ruthless about cutting out the things that don’t make me happy. I only hang out with people whose company I enjoy and who truly make me happy. I do what I can to eliminate tasks that I hate. Yes, I still have to vacuum, so there are some chores you just can’t avoid, but even that can be improved simply by sipping single malt scotch while doing so (know what I’m saying?).
What can you do now?
Think about what adjustments you can make to get a little closer to that perfect day, but be sure that you don’t make your decisions based on what others might think of you. Some of these decisions are going to be tough, awkward and inconvenient. But if you are following what feels right for you, it will make you more content and happier in the long run. In essence:
Care more about what you care about and care less about what other people think.
Write down how the project you are currently working on is going to help you in the future.
How is that future life going to be better than what you currently have? Then ask yourself, if you could make your life perfect by snapping your fingers, how would you spend your days and who would you hang out with? Does what you are currently working on align with what comes with that snap of the fingers?
What things make you feel truly content? Is it being the best parent, brother, husband? Maybe it’s doing more charity work or achieving a certain status in your professional life. What actions can you take to live that ‘future perfect’? Not to live it in the future but to live it now.
If you work long hours so you can spend more time with your family in the future, why can’t you spend more time with them now? What’s stopping you?
Each year I look at my life and how I spent my time. Then, just like balancing a investment portfolio, I see what negative things can I stop completely or do less of and what positive things should I start or do more of to increase my immediate happiness and contentment.
So does this mean my life is perfect at the moment? Not at all. I struggle with the same shit that everyone else does. But I’ve learned to live according to my own values so I can be more content with what I have today.
Because there is one thing in life that you can’t get back or make more of… and that is time.
Pursue the things that are important to you. Remember that it’s not about pursuing happiness and fulfillment as much as it is about finding it in what you have now. It’s about changing your mindset. Find a way to be authentically thankful for everything that you have and in everything that happens to you.
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