Finding Happiness in the Now While Still Looking Ahead

With the Right Perspective It's Possible to Find Happiness in the Present While Still Dreaming Big for the Future

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A long-time friend recently reached out to me. This friend has been on a similar journey as me, working to develop a more positive mindset after years of living in fear and self-doubt. He is going through a rough patch and felt a familiar defeatist mentality start to creep in. He asked if I still experience moments like these.

The truth is that I do. There are days where I feel like I’m back at square one. They’ve become farer and fewer in-between as I keep working on myself but they still happen.

If I look at my friend’s situation and mine, and really that of anyone with big goals in life, what I notice is that the frustration sets in when progress towards our goals is looking slow.

In my friend’s case, he was upset about a career opportunity that wasn’t panning out. As for me, I want to make writing a full-time career and bad days at work only serve to remind me that I’m still not where I want to be.

Work isn’t the only trigger we may come across. For you it might be your family on some days. Other times it may be your health. Or your finances. Whatever it is, these areas of your life fall short of the mark you’ve set, and they may be keeping you from finding happiness.

The problem appears to be that we believe finding happiness is about achieving a particular objective. This would indicate that we’ll be unhappy until we reach that goal. And if we regularly update our goals, as people who seek personal growth often do, it means we’ll be unhappy the majority of the time.

Happiness is Not a Destination

I realize the flaw in my mentality when I’m feeling down about my lack of progress. Our journey is about growth and not about reaching a particular destination after all. The thing is, it’s possible to know something to be true yet still struggle to fully live it.

We are all a work-in-progress. Every minute of every day. There’s going to be times of quick progression and other times when we hit a plateau or find roadblocks in our way. These challenges come with the territory of choosing personal growth as a way of life.

We can help ourselves by remembering how far we’ve progressed, showing a bit of gratitude in the process. There’s a quote on social media that’s gets shared a lot: I remember the days when I prayed for the things I have now.

Look back at your own life when you’re feeling stuck. What do you have now that you desperately wished for a few years ago? If you’ve been on this journey for a while then I’m sure you can find a thing or two that you’ve achieved since then.

Assessing our progress can provide immediate relief when we’re feeling dejected but it’s only a temporary solution. It doesn’t solve the issue of finding happiness for the long haul. For that we need to understand ourselves better.

Our Ability to Adapt is Keeping Us from Finding Happiness

Harvard social psychologist Dan Gilbert began researching happiness after losing both his mother and a mentor, seeing his marriage fall apart, and dealing with a son who was having problems at school, all in a short period of time.

What triggered Gilbert to begin this research was the realization that he wasn’t as miserable as he expected he would be. After conferring with a friend who was also going through difficult times (and who was also not feeling completely devastated) he wondered, “How accurately do people predict their emotional reactions to future events?”

Gilbert’s research found that we humans “tend to be moderately happy with whatever we get.” Why? Because we adapt fairly quickly to our situations. Whether we achieve big things or small, good things or bad, we get accustomed to it all, leaving us in a state of okay.

We can see that with this tendency finding happiness would be difficult since we’re always looking to the next milestone. What was once highly coveted becomes the new norm once we’ve attained it. There is no lasting satisfaction. There’s just feelings of ‘meh’ and questions of ‘what comes next?’.

You Can Still Look Forward and Be Happy

I don’t believe the solution is to never strive towards anything and to simply be content with our lot. I believe in constant growth. But finding happiness can’t be about what’s ahead while ignoring the present.

The good thing is that the world isn’t all black and white. We don’t have to choose one thing or the other. The solution lies somewhere in the middle. It’s possible to have goals but still be happy with our current state.

Gilbert’s research gives us insight into how we can start to achieve this:

“We know the best predictor of human happiness is human relationships and the amount of time that people spend with family and friends…We know that it is significantly more important than money…Another thing we know from the studies is that people tend to take more pleasure in experiences than in things.”

Are your goals helping you to create more time for your friends and family? Are they providing the opportunity to create memorable experiences? Or are your goals focused on accumulating material wealth?

Material things aren’t evil. We can still have big dreams, in which we have nice things, but they must center on family, friends, and great experiences. In this way we can be happy in the knowledge of what we’re working towards but also happy with what we’ve done for the meaningful parts of our life.

I suggest that we stop chasing happiness as if it’s something we can only have once we get to a particular point. We can have it at all times because our goals will be neatly aligned to what matters. Ultimately, it’s about adopting a perspective that says, “I’m happy now but I’ll also be happy where I’m headed.”

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