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In talking with a dear friend last week, the topic of satisfaction with life came up. This seems to be a common topic; I find that most people fall into one of two categories:
– They are generally happy about where they are in life but have some things they would like to change
– They are unhappy with where they are in life and don’t know what to do about it
Both of these can cause some frustration and anxiety. If we are not satisfied with life, what is the cause of that and what can we do about it?
Let’s take a look at the first category. If you feel like things are going well and you want some things to change, this can be difficult because change – even good change – usually causes a shift in balance. This means there is a potential of upsetting the things that are going well, and since disrupting that seems like a bad idea, we can be hesitant to do anything different. This can cause a stifling or stagnation effect, where we move through life without moving forward, hanging in the balance of what’s good enough because some things are good and we don’t want to mess that up.
Eventually this can lead to some level of frustration where we are caught in the middle, tied to part of life that works and not so impressed with other parts. The question here becomes: is life really “working” then? Are you satisfied with good enough?
And the second category: a general dissatisfaction with everything. This is not a good feeling. Here it’s like an animal trapped in a cage; nothing seems to be going the way we want, and we’re stuck in the middle of it. This can lead to feelings of anger, frustration, depression, and hopelessness. It’s important to get out of this as soon as possible. But how?
“Grass is always greener” syndrome usually involves statements like:
– If I could just get to/be/find X, THEN everything would be fine.
– I wish I could/I wish I had…
– Why can’t I just…
And many others, typically involving means of comparison – what would be ideal vs. what we have. Sometimes the ideal is based on fantasy/unrealistic expectations, sometimes it is accompanied with feelings of jealousy or bitterness, and sometimes things we would like are totally attainable – they just require some form of change.
Change almost always involves some level of risk and/or compromise. Sacrifice and compromise are certainly part of life; no one gets everything they want all the time. So it becomes about what is more important. We have to take a sobering look at what’s going on and why it isn’t working. The ego is not a fan of this, so it’s usually tough. The ego would rather not discuss this and instead take an “easier” path, something to cover up the symptoms. Examples of this would be things like drinking or taking drugs to forget about problems, or cheating on a partner because the relationship is not going well. But these are like bandaids on a gaping wound: it never turns out well, usually makes things worse, and then there’s the fact that the original issue is still there…
Now those are extreme examples, but it holds true across everything: we don’t exercise because it’s hard and it’s easier to just eat something. We don’t clean up because we’re tired and it’s easier to add to the pile. We don’t practice because we’re tired. We don’t practice deeply because we don’t really want to look at the technical problems so we just practice the stuff we’re already good at. We don’t seek help because then we have to admit we aren’t doing something as well as we would like to be doing it already. This is normal, and it’s usually prompted not by laziness, but by fear. Fear of change. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of success.
It’s also important to acknowledge that you can’t have your cake and eat it too. You can’t sweep stuff under the rug and make things better. It doesn’t work that way. If you want to makes things better, something will have to change: a habit, a mindset, an environment, a relationship, a job, a career path – something. And sometimes more than one thing. So here are some suggestions, based on my experience and on the experiences of others:
Start by taking inventory.
It’s really helpful if you do this pretending that you are a third party – someone that’s not in the middle of everything, so that you can be more objective. Think about how someone who is unbiased and doesn’t know you would assess the situation. What is the current situation, what is the issue you claim to be of concern, what is good about the situation, and what isn’t working? Watch out for statements like “nothing is good” – that’s typically not an objective view. Really look at the situation from all sides, identifying all aspects. Do this for each thing you don’t like separately, keeping in mind that some aspects may overlap.
Make some decisions.
Take a look at your inventory: what is acceptable to you, what is negotiable, and what is absolutely unacceptable? In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron makes this GREAT statement early on, which basically says if something is unacceptable to you and you’re still doing it, then it is acceptable. That was a real wake up call to me – after I read that, I decided to make changes about those unacceptable things right away. If I decided something was negotiable, then maybe I was making a big deal out of something that wasn’t that big of a deal. And seeing what is acceptable is also interesting. Sometimes it just takes a fresh perspective to remind ourselves of why we are doing something or why we chose something in the first place. Sometimes we need to be reminded to have gratitude for the things that are going well and things that are actually not so bad.
Back to that unacceptable list – if they are truly unacceptable to you, then you’re going to want to do something about them. Sometimes these are small changes, and sometimes they require major life shifts.
I’ve mentioned this in other posts, and it applies here as well. If it’s a big change, break it up into manageable tasks that will evolve over time. Take small steps toward making change. This makes it more manageable, less overwhelming, and more likely that you’ll actually do it.
Ask for family/friend/partner support if possible. Get an accountability partner. Work with a professional/coach that specializes in what you are looking to change. As I said to someone just this morning, you are not an island! Not only do you not have to do everything yourself, it’s usually not possible. Behind every great person is usually a bunch of other great people; relying on others to help us build ourselves is not only necessary, it’s smart. You’ll get there much faster than trying to do things all alone. Take it from anyone who’s ever tried to do anything ever In most cases, people don’t try to become a professional at something without working with mentors and coaches – why would we think that life is any different? You want to become a pro at life? It’s the same thing.
Start hanging out with like-minded people for where you want to be, not where you are.
Misery loves company! It’s easy to complain and to commiserate with others who have problems. I’m not saying that we can’t be empathetic, but we don’t need to hang out in the world of problems. That only creates a cloud of negativity in which to dwell, which doesn’t help anything. Find people or groups that are doing things in your areas of change. Find people who are growth-minded and who are being courageous and positive. Change is usually scary, even when it’s good, and it can be helpful to see a bunch of other people going for it too.
Understand that it’s always going to be something.
Life isn’t perfect, and no matter what you do, it never will be. That’s just the way it is. That’s why finding joy in the journey is so much more important than waiting for a desired outcome before experiencing happiness and a feeling of accomplishment. A person living in your “ideal” situation has their own problems too. For example, if you wish you had more money, take a look at someone who has plenty. Think their problems are over? I guarantee you they are not.
A realistic view of the big picture can help us overcome wishing and wanting and thinking that it’s better on the other side. It’s important to appreciate what we have and to look at change with the understanding that improvement is wonderful and usually challenging, and to realize that no matter what we do and how much we accomplish, there is never an arrival point. The task of seeking growth and change in order to better ourselves is a life-long experience.
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