Since my last article, a few people have asked a question that’s phrased different ways, but comes back to a central idea.
“What about working toward a goal in the future? I eventually want to do X with my life.” “Do we need to be unhappy to challenge ourselves for future growth?” “Are you saying I should be content with where I am and never do anything else?”
The underlying idea is: Can I be happy now, while still wanting something different in the future?
The Future Happiness Myth is a realization that I have much to be happy about and thankful for now. My happiness does not lie in the future. My happiness is always and can only be had now. It’s not meant to make me content to live the rest of my life as I am today.
I’ll jump back to my school experience. Yes, school is a stressful period, but I’d tell myself to better appreciate the experience instead of dreading it, hating it, rushing through it, and only looking forward to being done with it. Of course I had the goal to graduate and become a developer professionally. College is a short amount of time, being meant only to prepare you for the workforce. Of course it would never last indefinitely. It’s necessary to have a goal for once it’s finished. But there’s an infinite difference between hating where you are because you’ll only be happy once it’s passed, and appreciating your phase in life but having a goal once it’s over.
If you’re ever to be happy, you must be happy now. That’s not to say you’ll be happy in this same way forever. The world is changing and we are changing. To ignore that is folly.
Said another way, you must prepare to change and think ahead. Life is a series of indefinite phases. You need an idea of where you’re going. Just remember to appreciate the mile marker you’re currently on.
Unhappiness needn’t be the driving force here. Be happy presently, and take a guess at what will make you happy going forward. Work toward it. Precious little is permanent and unchangeable, so don’t be afraid to take risks.
However, if you are unhappy, figure out why. Unhappiness is a calling to change. It’s not a forever, not if looked at in the right way. Decide what’s literally the next and smallest action you can take to put yourself closer to where you want to be. What will make you happier? It might be part of a larger goal, but a goal is a thousand small actions strung together. Take that first step forward. And that’s immediate. The immediacy is important. It shows you’re already on your way. It shows that your happiness is now and not only at the conclusion of your thousand actions.
Keep on dreaming and work toward your goals. But you won’t appreciate your life later unless you appreciate it now. Take a deep, deep breath and notice your surroundings this moment. Really notice them. That’s one small action toward the goal of appreciating your now.