How many times have you told yourself the “When I…” story?
When I get a better job I will be happy. When I meet the right person I will be happy. When I live in my dream home I will be happy. When I have more money in the bank I will be happy.
We generally believe that happiness increases in direct correlation to the increase in our success, health, or material possessions. Perhaps it does to a certain extent, if you already have the right attitude and are fundamentally happy to begin with.
Things like success, health and material possessions are more prevalent now than in any other time in human history. We have the fewest numbers of people dying from disease and war, life expectancy is higher than ever before, technology allows us to learn and connect with people all over the globe, and we generally have more daily conveniences than other generations.
When I think of where we are in society, we should be happier than ever! So why is stress, burnout, anxiety and depression more prevalent than ever?
Believing that happiness follows success is a broken paradigm. Success is a moving target. Once we hit success, our idea of what success is moves up to the next level and it’s easy to feel like it’s not good enough because our own mental bar rises.
So when we experience any advancement in our lives (whether personally or culturally) our expectations change. Aside from the fact that our technological advancements also come with an assumption that we will be superhuman and achieve ten times more in our day than previous generations, we are faced with a new phenomenon I like to call comparison living.
Comparison living: Judging your life in comparison to people who have (or appear to have) more than you.
Recipe for disaster.
This unfortunately is easier now more than ever with things like Instagram, Facebook, celebrity magazines and tv shows glamorizing the lives of the rich and famous, and the internet in general. We are constantly bombarded with what I like to call “brag media.” Let’s face it, very few people are posting pictures or statuses about a major fuck-ups in their life. Which overall is a good thing, because I like to keep things on social media positive. But as a result, we see all of the great vacations and perfect life moments of others, and every time you see this there’s something in you that goes “I want that.”
Here’s the truth my friends: Happiness levels don’t rise with success or external stuff.
There are many people who have a good home, a family, food on their table, clothes in their closet and yet they are not happy. It is your own choice to focus on the good, or focus on the bad. Nothing in your external life has to change to be a happier person, and that is what so many people unfortunately fail grasp.
There are people who have terminal diseases and are happier than people who have everything in the world. What’s the difference you ask? Gratitude. Being happy for what you do have. Unless you are dead I bet there’s something you can find to be grateful for. I’ve been to parts of the world that are devastating to see as a “first worlder.” Yet what I’ve noticed time and again is that there are many people who have very little and are still fundamentally happy.
So let’s get practical. What can you do to increase your happiness in your life?
- Every time you hear yourself go “When I have…” or “Why don’t I have…” STOP yourself right there and immediately list 3 things you’re grateful for right now.
- Attach the practice of gratitude to something you already are in the habit of doing. The best one I can think of is brushing your teeth. If you think of all things you are grateful for when you brush your teeth, then you’ve practiced gratitude for a couple of minutes every day and it didn’t take you any extra time.
- Other times you can do this are when you are waiting in line at the grocery store or at the doctor’s office- or any time you are waiting for something. It’s the universe giving you a couple of free minutes. Spend them mindfully.
When we get still we intuitively know that there is more to life than waking up, going to work every day and accumulating stuff. There is a deeper meaning in life and people feel a yearning to understand it and experience it. People are starving for something they think they don’t have; but we all have it in us to be happy.