Most of us have big aspirations for the future. If you’re like me, you are always looking for the next thing to work on or to get better at. Figuring out how to make your personal life better and how to have more impact in you professional life. Maybe you are in search for happiness and looking for it in perfection. But I think we are doing it wrong because contentment can be found in the attitude you have.
Maybe you want to learn a new language, master the trumpet—or hell, I don’t know—write a book? There’s a force pushing you so you jump on to another project as soon as the previous task is done. You don’t want to waste a single day of your life feeling as if you didn’t accomplish something meaningful.
Do you take time to stop and think about what you’ve accomplished after each project and after each win? Do you take a moment to appreciate what you have created, learned, or how you have bettered yourself? Maybe you just switched from eating takeaway seven days a week to only doing it on the weekends. It might seem small but did you stop and think about the scale of an improvement that it is for your long-term health? And your wallet. Or did you move on without sparing a thought for winning.
A while back I was on one of my regular long walks and had an epiphany. I felt like something just clicked. Even though I’d heard or read this from a dozen or more sources over the past few years, I never truly got it until that moment. This time, I felt it on a deeper level than ever before. I realized that I only have now. I realized that if I always look into the future and work towards a new thing, that “perfect future”, I will miss most things happening today. I always thought that I had been living in the present, yet I hadn’t. At all.
Living for now doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn new things or have something to look forward to in the future. You absolutely should! But you shouldn’t allow yourself to believe that the one thing you are chasing is the one magical addition your life is missing. If you forget to be present as life happens today, nothing will change as you get older. You will always use all your energy working towards something better, you will keep moving the goal post each time. Think about something that you worked extremely hard to achieve. Was the feeling in the end as glorious as you thought it would be?
Actions for Finding Contentment
There are a few things that I do every day that help me to be more content. For one, I appreciate every single seemingly unimportant everyday moment that comes my way. I will try to look for the upside in even the seemingly negative things. When something doesn’t work out the way I wanted I try not to blame myself or look for others to blame but rather objectively observe the situation and ways that I can do better next time. This puts me in the driver seat.
When I am looking forward to something in the near future, such as a trip to somewhere, I try not to let it consume all of my thinking. Otherwise I miss all the days leading up to it.
When I hear a song that moves me, I stop and take it all in. I appreciate that someone put in the work to make this amazing piece of music.
This next one is very specific. Each time I get home one of our cats sprints to the door to greet me, in a very un-cat like way. It’s weird but awesome at the same time. And no matter how tired, hungry or irritable I might feel, I take a minute or two to pat him until he has had enough. Because one day he won’t be there.
I’ve also been ruthless about cutting out stuff that doesn’t make me happy. I only hang out with people whose company I enjoy, and I do what I can to eliminate tasks that I hate. Yes, I still have to vacuum, so there are some chores you can’t avoid.
Those are just some of the examples. Think about what adjustments you can make to get a little closer to that perfect day, but don’t make your decisions based on what others might think of you. Some of the decisions required are going to be tough, awkward and inconvenient and going against the current. But if you are following what feels right for you, it will make you more content. In essence:
Care more about what you care about and care less about what other people think.
Write down how the project you are currently working on is going to help you in the future. How is that better than what you currently have. Then ask yourself, if you could make your life perfect by snapping your fingers, how would you spend your days and who would you hang out with? Does what you are currently working on align with what comes with that snap of the fingers.
What things make you feel truly content? Is it being the best parent, son, daughter, brother, husband, or wife? Maybe it’s doing more charity work or achieving a certain status of position in your professional life. What actions can you take to live that future perfect. Not to live it in the future but to live it now. If you work long hours so you can spend more time with your family in the future, why can’t you spend more time with them now?
With fitness goals, it’s easy to fall into the trap of constantly moving the goalpost. To avoid this, it’s important to see happiness as the goal and not a certain ideal weight or body type. Work to improve your health, body composition or strength but find gratitude in what you have at this moment. Even if you are not 100% satisfied with how you currently look (who is, anyways?) remind yourself of what is awesome about your body today.
I’m fortunate to have many things currently in life that would also be part of my perfect life. To be honest, the majority of the things that I do would be part of my perfect day as well. So is this because my life is perfect at the moment? Not at all. I struggle with the same shit that everyone else does. But I’ve learned to be more content with what I’ve got now.
There is one thing in life that you can’t get back or make more of, and that is time. Focus on the process of doing the right things and eventually you will get where you want to go to. You might as well enjoy the ride and take it all in while it happens. And each time you take the right action embrace it as if you’ve won.
Pursue things that are important to you. But it’s not about pursuing happiness and fulfillment as much as it is about finding them in what you have now. It’s about changing your mindset. Find a way to feel thankful for everything that you have and in everything that happens to you.