We all say it, “I’ll be happy when...”
…I lose 10 pounds
…I buy my dream home
…My next vacation arrives
…When I have a job that I am passionate about
…When I am in a stable and loving relationship
The list goes on and on and if the list goes on and on, when exactly will you be happy? The problem is that this syndrome has become an unconscious thought that leads in a direction away from the happiness that you crave. As a culture we have convinced ourselves that happiness is found in the future and not in the present moment where we currently are. And it seems that once that future moment becomes our present moment, that doesn’t fulfill us either. For example, when you are single everyone asks when you are going to find someone and once you do, they start inquiring when you’ll marry and then ask when you’re having your first child, then the second and onwards from there. Looking to the future can be a dangerous trap but it seems to be one that most look to for comfort. Why? What is so comfortable about living in a perceived future? Well it’s because we don’t know the future, the comfort lies in the ability to create control over what could be, but this is at a price as you’re letting go of the current reality you are in.
Often people come to me focused on what they don’t have, seeking guidance to get to a place where they might acquire it. However, throughout this period they miss other things happening around them such as the growth of their child, the happiness found within friendships or the passion that ignites them within their careers. And what has happened here? An entire lifetime has passed pursuing an illusion. These events we waited so dearly for has now absorbed into the ordinary and we have replaced the last fantasy with another that will hopefully soon arrive in the future.
The number one job I have is to help engage clients with their present moment while also allowing changes to develop to lead them down a path of happiness. Looking to the joys in your present can be quite challenging as often they are pretty small, but they are out there and can help pull us out of the, “I’ll be happy when syndrome”. We all look for contentment within people, places, objects or events only to discover that it suddenly fails to bring us contentment - it ceases to satisfy the hunger within. After much time we discover that contentment does not lay outside of ourselves, but it lies within. For instance, if you were to win the lottery, you’d feel great for a little while but then little by little your prize becomes a part of the everyday and you find yourself looking for another hit. One reason that this doesn’t stick is that we all tend to have a happiness set point. This internal set point has a default setting that it will return to, regardless of life’s rewards and setbacks. For instance, someone that might be chronically depressed will return back to their normal mood even when things seem to be going well, whereas an optimist will tend to lean towards cheer even in the midst of disaster. The thing is, genuine and sustainable happiness is derived from a healthy relationship with yourself.
So, what can we do to move forwards and away from this constant pattern? Let’s take a look.
Stop, focus and investigate your discontent
Let’s first bring our awareness to ourselves and our surroundings. What kind of thought patterns can we discover by becoming aware of our thoughts? When do these forward thinking thoughts appear? Is it in certain situations or around certain people? Maybe there might be a particular trigger that might steer your mind into the world of fantasy, what-ifs and whens. Ask yourself: What happened today? What emotion was I feeling? What brought me to this state of future thinking and why am I not content in the present moment? What’s behind the feeling of frustration? What’s inside the sadness? What lies beneath the fear?
Try to give yourself permission to feel all that you have unearthed. It might seem paradoxical that your journey towards contentment would start with sitting in the feelings that leave you dissatisfied, but it will lead you down a path towards greater happiness. You don’t change your state by resisting, running away and moving towards desires that will never be fulfilled. Accepting your situation is very different from giving into self-pity as this inner acceptance will allow you to relax the muscle that keeps trying to control the uncontrollable, which will free you from the stress of having to pretend that everything is okay.
It takes time to achieve greater understanding of your thought patterns but after a while you’ll notice that your feelings aren’t static. They will shift and change all by themselves because that is the nature of feelings. They aren’t here forever, so welcome them, then wish them on their way.
Accept what is and adopt an attitude of gratitude
One of the easier ways to come into the present moment is stopping to be grateful for the things around you. At the end of each day write a short list of the things, moments, events or people that helped to make your day that much more wonderful. As the days, weeks and months go by, you will start to pick up on these remarkable bits of the present moment as if it is second nature. Alternatively, you could try a short meditation where you recite - “what I have is enough” then breathe out and think, “what I am is enough”, then breathe in and think, “what I do is enough” and with one last breath out, think, “what I’ve achieved is enough”. Cycle through this a few times and notice each emotion that rises to the surface. This practice can become quite challenging as you are required to face and accept yourself as well as your situation for everything it is. It takes a degree of willingness to change and face fears that might be uncomfortable as what’s on the other side of this hurdle is so freeing it can seem unfamiliar.
Relax into your current reality
This is the tricky part. Coming from someone that has constantly been uprooting themselves into new and different environments that can cause stress, confusion and upset, the biggest take away I have learned is that pushing against what is, will not lead you anywhere better. The more you relax into the situation, the more you will be able to be okay with whatever is going on. Your reality will start to shift and the world around you will become much more beautiful and the difficult moments you were running into will become a fun challenge.
Question who your authentic self actually is
Often we get caught up in the expectation of what we should have and how we should be living, but question yourself, “What is it exactly that I want and not what is expected of me?” Finding meaning in life can bring great contentment and we frequently forget this by getting lost in the hectic pace of life. Ask yourself some questions to see if you’re truly living as your best authentic self. Am I living my own life, a life that expresses who I authentically am? Or am I living the way my culture and family around me think I should be living? What do I need to do and who do I need to be to feel authentically myself? From inquiring deep within, shifts will occur and these shifts will bring you along the path towards contentment. Stepping into what you love can be a scary shift as you are leaving a place of comfortability into one that doesn’t give you the ability to see what’s to come next, but let me tell you it’s worth it.
Whatever your current situation, there are blessings right in front of you. Be thankful for the things you have as it opens your eyes to the happiness that is in this moment.