I think that one of the most dreadful feelings to have is the feeling that you’re running out of time. That life is passing by you and you’re not doing the things you want to do, you’re not living it the way you could be living it.
Really, apart from physical pain, I can’t think of any worse kind of pain than the sadness resulting from the perception of wasting your life. And if like me, you don’t believe in life after death, reincarnation or any of that stuff, and you believe this life is all you have, it only magnifies it.
Where does this very common feeling of sorrow stem from? In my view, there are three major sources.
1. Failing to Achieve Your Goals
The first source has to do with your life not turning up the way you want it to turn out.
Maybe you don’t have that high-level job you’ve always dreamed of, or you don’t make the kind of money you want to make, or you don’t have the relationship you want to have, or you don’t look the way you desire.
Considering that in the society most of us are living in, we are encouraged to set lofty goals for ourselves and build our lives around them, this source of discontent is quite widespread.
However, it’s worth pointing out that not achieving certain goals in and of itself does not lead to unhappiness, unless you attach yourself to your goals. Which takes me to my next point.
2. Attachment to Your Goals
Fortunately for me, I’ve met quite a number of people who are able to enjoy life extensively despite not having achieved their goals. I say fortunately because this kind of people tends to be the exception more than the rule.
Yes, they have goals and they work at achieving them. But not having achieved them doesn’t make them feel sadness and regret. Why? Because they are able to draw satisfaction from life in itself, not just from reaching goals.
Reaching their goals would temporarily increase their happiness, but that doesn’t stop them from having fun each day, doing things they enjoy, being self-amusing and making the best out of life as it is.
Ironically, this attitude of detachment, as most psychological studies suggest, will only increases their chances of success. Happiness breeds success even more than success breeds happiness.
Last but not least, I think one of the central issues that prevent people from being happy is the tendency to aim for inflated ideals and only allow themselves to be happy if they achieve them.
It’s not enough make a good living; you need to be a millionaire. It’s not enough to have a nice house; you need to live in a mansion. It’s enough to have cool friends; you need to hang out with P. Diddy. It’s not enough to have a lot of qualities, you need to be perfect.
This kind of perfectionism creates the staggering situation we see today in developed countries: people have more money and more options than ever, yet the depression rate is sky high.
What gives? It’s only another shred of evidence that it’s not what you have that matters; it’s how you use it.
Stop, Look and Listen
Ultimately, I think in order to truly enjoy life, most people need to make a shift in attitude. They need to stop focusing exclusively on chasing increasingly higher goals and learn to embrace life as it is.
Now, notice I used the word ‘learn’. This is because it’s not something you just do. It’s a way of looking at things, at yourself and at life. It’s a way of living and a way of being. And it requires adequate practice and commitment to assimilate it.
Perhaps it’s time to put some distance between your goals and your happiness, and not let the later be dependent on the former. Aim high, but don’t be a perfectionist. Act to reach your goals and improve your life, never give up on your goals, but don’t let the fact you’re not reaching your destination dismay you.
Focus on enjoying the journey. The destination is secondary.
Image courtesy of wowyt