Every generation has had it’s own big world events and challenges, and of course, that’s what’s shaped the values, personality characteristics and lifestyle choices of each generation. One of the big events of our generation has been the birth and growth of the internet – an event that’s brought both challenges and opportunities for all of us. In an increasingly interconnected world where we have access to information about people and lifestyles all over the world, we all have more opportunities than ever before. So many of the barriers to entry that existed before, making life and leadership difficult, have been dissolved by the internet. It’s easier than ever before to find like-minded people all over the world, it’s cheaper than ever before to start a business and serve people all over the world, it’s easier and cheaper than ever before to educate yourself about anything you’d like to learn about, it’s easier than ever before to find out your rights, comparative prices on the stuff you’d like to buy, and the choices available to you, and it’s easier than ever before to create automated systems to provide the scaffolding that can help your life to run smoothly.
And while this sounds like a great thing, it’s also presented us with more potential for unhappiness and regret than ever before. I’m seeing it in my clients, my friends and family, and I’ve spotted it in myself too. Because we’re so much more aware of the infinite possibilities for places to live, things to see and do, different kinds of work to engage in, different ways to make money… we’ve gotten into the habit of wondering all the time if there’s something more, better, or even just different that we’re missing out on. When we achieve our goals, we’re always moving swiftly onto the next thing we’re striving for, or wondering if we’re investing in the right lifestyle and work experiences – perhaps the grass is greener on the other side?
How choices affect happiness
This isn’t just my observation. Research into happiness has shown that increased choices often leads to increased dissatisfaction. When participants were given the opportunity to choose their favorite painting, poster or photo in a variety of different studies, the participants who were told that they could change their decisions were less satisfied with the choice they had made than the participants who were told that they had to stick with their choice once it was made. According to Dan Gilbert, when we believe we’re stuck with our choice, we’re able to synthesize our happiness and, in essence, we decide to love what we have.
I’m not proposing we should limit our choices! As a life coach, I’m obviously all for helping people to identify opportunities and see more options available to them for changing their lives, and one of my greatest personal motivations for traveling the world as a location independent professional is to access a greater variety of different life experiences. I love that the internet has made it possible for me to do the work I love while moving around the world, and I especially love that the internet makes it so easy for me to learn and to connect with like-minded people all around the world. Most of all, I love living in a world where there are so many opportunities available to me. What I’m suggesting is that we can learn to have the diverse choices and opportunities available to us AND feel happy with what we have right now.
How to be happy with the life you have, in an abundant world:
Realise that happiness is just a feeling and you can have all the feelings you want right now, without changing your life.
Most people think that our happiness is caused or limited by the circumstances around us. Sure our circumstances are triggers for happiness or unhappiness, but you always have the choice about how you feel in response to what’s going on around you. Nazi death camp survivor, Viktor Frankl, said, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose ones attitude in any given circumstance.” Circumstances and material things don’t make you happy – your thoughts about those things are what makes you happy. You have full control over your thoughts, so you can be happy anywhere. Realise that changing where you live, what stuff you have, what work you do or who you sleep with will never make you happy. It’s always your thoughts and the stories you tell yourself about your life that will do that for you.
Stop comparing yourself to others.
Admit it… you’ve probably paged through your friend’s photos on Facebook and compared your lifestyle to their’s. Nevermind facebook, it happens all the time… you ask each other about your work and you’re comparing your work success, you ask each other about your relationships and you’re comparing your choices and level of success with relationships. You go for dinner at each other’s houses and you compare your homes and lifestyles. You attend school events and you compare your child’s progress to the other children. These kinds of comparisons are a great strategy for becoming unhappy with you own life, even when you’re life is going pretty well. There will always be other people who have something different or better to what you have going on in your life, so you’ll never be happy with your own life if you’re comparing yourself to other people. Speaking of comparison, there are some people who don’t just compare, but actively compete, doing their best to look better than other people and to try to prove that their lifestyle choices are better than your’s. Avoid getting into those sorts of games – it only pushes other people away because they feel lousy around you, and it’ll leave you feeling empty even when you “win.”
Gratitude isn’t just a feeling, it’s a practice. When you’re feeling grateful, it’s because you’re noticing what you have in your life that you love, and that makes you feel loved. Most of us think that gratitude, happiness, peace and all the other wonderful things we want to feel just happen to us, but that’s not the case. Our feelings are always a result of our thoughts. You can get into the practice of creating gratitude by asking yourself questions that focus your awareness on what you love in your life. So ask yourself, “What do I love about my life? What am I looking forward to tomorrow? What went well for me today? What makes me feel very loved?” When you contemplate these questions and answer them honestly, you’ll experience authentic gratitude.
When you feel dissatisfied, ask yourself, “what do I value or need?”
I’m not proposing that we all go and sit in the corner and change our thoughts so that we feel gratitude all the time, and stop participating in life itself. We’re meant to actively design and sculpt our lives – it’s a process that itself brings great joy. But rather than darting around in different directions according to the latest and greatest new big thing that everyone else is spotting as an opportunity, you can make sure that the grass is always greener on your side by always staying clear on what’s important to you and what you honestly need, and moving towards that. So when you feel dissatisfied with an aspect of your life, ask yourself, “What’s important to me? What do I need? How do I already have that in my life in places where I haven’t been noticing? And how can I bring more of that into my life now?”
Be willing to ask for what you need and value now.
Often when I’m working with someone around improving or changing a relationship or a work situation that they’re dissatisfied with, as they get clearer on what they value and need, they realise that one of the reasons why they’ve not had that thing they value or need in their life is because they haven’t shared their needs and values with other people. When you don’t share your needs and values, it’s difficult for other people to help you satisfy your needs and values. Personal and work relationships and roles are all negotiations. When you express your needs and values clearly, other people will often help you to get what you want in that area of your life.
Finally, remember that happiness isn’t having what you want, it’s about wanting what you have.
Through her Bottom-line Bookclub, “Resource Miner,” Cath Duncan offers accelerated learning programs for professionals who want to develop the Agile Living Strategies for thriving in these turbulent times. You can follow Cath’s blog at www.mineyourresources.com and on Twitter she’s @cathduncan.
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