Are you waiting on a goal, dream, or deadline to come to fruition because it symbolizes some moment of transformation or happiness, while in the meantime you feel tired, defeated, or overwhelmed?
In goal-planning with people in yoga and therapy, I often hear things like "I want to be happy", "After I get a job and have money, I'll be happier", "Once I move then I'll be happier", or any other version of "[Insert future, major life changing event] and then I'll be happy."
Except the problem is, often times those life changes do happen, and people still aren't happy. They're already worried about the next thing they don't have that they think they need to be happy, and they are back to feeling tired, defeated, and overwhelmed until they get to some perceived final destination of happiness.
The statement "I want to be happy" causes a problem, in my biased opinion. What does happy look like? What will be different about your thoughts, emotions, behaviors, life when you are happy? Do you expect to be happy all day, every day? If you find yourself making statements such as "I want to be happier", but you can't answer those questions, you're already doomed to failure. Defining a goal (being happy), but not having anyway of knowing what that looks like means you won't know how to get there, and you won't know when you've gotten there. Similar to "I want a job"- if you can't define what you want in a job, or what you want to be doing, it's going to be very difficult to take any active steps towards applying for and obtaining a job.
The idea that we can be happy all day, every day seems to be a belief I see more often in people that experience depression and anxiety. After periods of time of not feeling well, of feeling hopeless about the possibility of getting better, sometimes we forget that the normal human experience includes moments and days of sadness, anxiety, low mood, fatigue, feeling hopeless about change. There becomes a faulty expectation that recovery from depression and anxiety looks like full on bliss all the time, as well as the faulty perception that everyone besides them is in a state of full on bliss all the time. Obviously, this doesn't apply to everyone who experiences depression and anxiety, but I think in general when we're sick we forget that feeling "normal" and well still includes some gloomy/less than optimal days.
It may sound pessimistic, but I don't think every day can necessarily be full of excitement and armfuls of joy. On Monday, we had an 8 hour drive through some difficult winter weather. Was it a bad day? Not exactly. Was that day ever going to be as packed full of fun as my wedding day? Absolutely not. And that's ok, it didn't have to be.
Not every day can be the best day ever. Some days outshine others, and that's ok. Is the day your first grandchild is born going to be filled with the same level of happiness as an average Monday at work? Probably not.
The expectation that we can only be happy, and that life can only be good, when big, exciting things happen sets us up for disappointment. To me, using the bar of "I want to be happier" helps create this problem.
What about finding peace, contentment, and gratitude in every day? For several months now, since getting news about the course of our friend Cody's illness, I thank the universe every morning for another day, and every evening for my family being safe and sound in our bed at night. Being alive, having breath flowing through your body by default makes that day a good day. Days where all I do is go to work, meet with clients, work on paperwork, and come home and cook or clean, and go to bed- those aren't bad days. I aim for finding contentment in the fact I have a job, and one that I like at that, that I have a home to retreat to at the end of the day, and that I have the ability to make myself food (even when it's ramen). They are not boring or mundane days (which takes a lot of reminding some days...). They are necessary. Life isn't a picture perfect, action-packed Instagram account or snap chat story. Some days you have to do the "boring" things that come with living a life.
That's where our thought patterns come into play. The moment you label that day as boring, your day just went down a few notches. When you can shift your mind to focus on what is good in the day, or what you are grateful for- that starts to shift our emotions. You go from feeling bored and longing for a future date in which you expect to feel happy, to feeling content and at peace in that moment.
Try to observe when you are assigning exaggerated labels to days and events, and notice the impact those labels have on your emotions. "This day is awful" leads to agitation and low mood. "This day was difficult, but these good things also happened that I'm grateful for." Small shift, but it does have an impact on your mood.
If you're not able to find peace, contentment, or joy on the boring, mundane days, you likely aren't going to obtain that official state of happiness you think will come when you "get happier", "have more money", "get a bigger house", or any other major, exhilarating, future event happens. Because once you get the job or the house, not every day on the job will be mind-blowing, and you're still going to have boring days sitting in your new, fancy house.
When you catch yourself saying it's a bad day, stop. Breathe. Try to change your thought patterns to find the good in that moment or day. Life is good now, don't waste today hoping tomorrow will bring you happiness. Find that happiness in this moment, you have the power to do that.
Teachings from Sal
Here's Sal, looking very serious (yet content) on one of his favorite chairs at his grandparent's house. Sal is a shining star in present-moment joy. Occasionally, he is unhappy when he is inside and he sees rabbits and creatures outside he wants to chase, or when someone is petting Uncle Sam and not him. After all, nobody is perfect. Sal is content lounging on couches and beds, playing with extra loud and squeaky toys, and finding other toys when his dad hides the extra loud and squeaky toys. Sal doesn't feel depressed, thinking that he'll be happy once he gets a new bone, or a fancier collar. Sal is happy with the toys and food he does have. Sal doesn't find life is boring because his parents are sick and he doesn't get to play at his grandparent's house, he finds the joy in being home with mom and dad all day. Sal doesn't complain that it's too cold outside; he goes and does his thing, and sprints right back inside.
Life for you and me is more complicated than life for Sal, but the way we perceive life and respond to any given situation often makes life more complicated for us than it needs to be.