The more and more I research and observe keys to happiness, I’m finding that one of the most common threads amongst the “happiest” is the ability to appreciate the now and to be happy with what you have.
This is quite a fundamental shift in thinking for me, because I have always been a planner. I love planning and preparing so that the end result can totally rock on. And I’m pretty good at that. In fact, some might say I am a master planner. While all that is fine and good, there is a lot that you lose by living in the future. You miss out on what’s happening today and what’s around you because you’re constantly in a state of preparing, planning and implementing your plan for some end state that exists some time in the future.
Some of the most accomplished people are never happy. It’s because they’re never content with the now. They’re always looking for the next thing and the next step. I’m not talking about being a perfectionist, the idea of which is truly absurd to me, but about never wanting to settle. In business interviews, this quality is portrayed and viewed as a good thing. Consider this: you are sitting across the room from a candidate who tells you he is never satisfied with his work and is always seeking to improve. Immediately afterwards, you conduct an interview with someone who says that he enjoys life and likes things the way they are. Pretty simple choice. The former tends to get the job, the rewards, the promotions. The latter, maybe not so. The former is the one you admire for how quickly and swiftly he maneuvers the workplace. He is the go-to person who may very well run a company one day. The latter is the one you admire for his ability to leave work at work, go home and then surf, work on his car, play with his kids – without ever thinking about work again until he clocks in the next day.
So what? Does that mean you have to sacrifice accomplishment and success in exchange for happiness? On one extreme, yes, I do believe that people who can appreciate what they have and can stop and smell the roses tend to be the happiest. Doesn’t it seem that the most eccentric people – the ones who do their own thing and don’t have a care in the world, not a piece of property to their name, no retirement savings, no desires for beautiful kitchens or of winning the lottery or even traveling around the world – are the happiest? They fly with the wind and live day to day. They are truly living each day as though it were their last and enjoying every second of it. And on the other extreme, there are people who define greatness in the most traditional sense of the word. Their contributions to the human race through discoveries and inventions and literature and art and music and science and technology leave a mark that will last long after they leave the earth. Their greatness is felt and experienced by many – not just their children and families and friends. But it seems like the most gifted and accomplished and wealthy struggle the most with some kind of void. It almost seems like they are trying to fill that void with achievement… with a pursuit… Not to put myself into this category by any means, but I can tell you that my own accomplishments have always stemmed from a sense of wanting to increase my value and my contribution… of justifying and validating the trust that was placed in me. It’s hard to find a profile of someone who’s achieved greatness and is truly happy, isn’t it? So what is the answer? Does one have to choose?
In my humble opinion, the answer is no. You choose the answer for yourself. You decide what you want your life to look like and don’t be apologetic or resentful or regretful about it. That’s easier said than done. I may be the worst hypocrite of them all. I sit in my wretched pool of discontent at times thinking about what I want to do, what I could do, what I should do… trying to make sense of the pursuit if happiness. But the thing that separates me from many others who live in a world of regret is that for me, this is a state, and a transitional one at that. It’s one that usually catapults me into the next level of life. And as you can tell from my approach to this site, I have never been an advocate of having to choose between life and greatness. I do believe you can have it all. But you have to make that choice.
You do so by being purposeful. Live life on purpose. Recognize what all means to you: by visualizing your dreams and by understanding your limits. The dreamers are some of the coolest people on this planet. Sure, they may not be practical or down to earth and may always be chasing their dreams. But if you are a dreamer, that is who you are, and you can’t and shouldn’t try to escape it.
But you also have to stop and take a look around once in a while. And the more often you do that, the happier you will tend to be. Appreciate the broken journey that brought you to this place and now. Recognize the fortune in having problems as light as your own. When compared to others’ misfortunes around the globe, it should bring a little bit of a chuckle, no?
So today, make a conscious effort to stop, appreciate, listen, feel and inhale the unbearable lightness of being.
And then go ahead – chase your dreams. Because the journey is just as amazing as the destination. So why not?