Achieving Life Satisfaction While Being Open to Change
Do you ever go through periods feeling that you’re just not satisfied?
We all have times when we’re not happy about the way our lives are going. Everything may be fine, or even good, but life can still seem mundane or ordinary. When no milestones are happening, when we’re in the doldrums between vacations, or when there’s nothing but routine, it can seem as if our lives aren’t special or extraordinary. Life satisfaction doesn’t mean settling for a life that is less than what you want it to be—it means accepting and living in the moment to the fullest. It means making the most of what you have while being open to opportunities and potential change. It means acknowledging and being grateful for the good things in your life and having a plan for addressing the aspects of your life that aren’t what you want. Life satisfaction means choosing to be happy now—not at some point in the future.
The grass is always greener
One of the big reasons people aren’t satisfied with their lives is that they become hyper-aware of things they don’t have—things that they believe would make them happy. It may be a gadget, a bigger house, or a different lifestyle. This perspective isn’t that different from when we are children and want the new toy in the shop window. If we just had that toy, we’d be happy. It’s especially prevalent in this time of technological innovation and individually targeted marketing. Not only does the newest gadget have really cool features, but also it is constantly in front of us in social media. Why don’t we outgrow our childlike fascination with the shiny new toy? Part of it is wanting to experience the exciting innovations that are taking place. We want to be part of the technological revolution. A more significant reason is that something new is perceived is a distraction from the ordinary—a break in routine. It’s indicative of us not being able to live meaningfully in the moment. Because the here and now is not sufficiently distracting or engaging, we need something that is.
Many people also obtain their sense of self-worth from having what others have or being able to do what others are doing. They have people in their lives who are markers for their own level of success. I have a friend who is regularly patterning her life after a sister she admires. If her sister does something, she wants to do that same activity. I periodically ask her, “Do you want to do that? Has that been a goal of yours?” It goes so far as judging herself based on her sister’s lifestyle. If her sister has the freedom to travel, my friend bemoans the fact that her job doesn’t allow her that same freedom. Again, I ask her if that has been something she’s wanted to do. Her job is quite meaningful and she’s been incredibly successful at it—it even involves lots of travel. I find that it’s not that she particularly wants to travel more; she just wants to compare favorably to her sister, even to the point of coveting specific activities. It’s not that anything about her sister’s life and possessions would make her happier; it’s just that she’s set her sister up as the ideal for what happiness looks like.
Is this all there is?
When we feel dissatisfied with life, it may be related to something specific, but it may also be a nebulous sense that we’re missing something—that there should be something more. When we’re young, we may have had high aspirations to do something monumental. We may have wanted to be the president, a movie star, or a great athlete. For me, it was a rock star or a professional baseball player. I eventually realized that neither goal was what I really wanted (regardless of whether I was capable), as neither path would provide sufficient meaning. But when we do have “sky’s the limit” aspirations, it can be difficult to face the fact that we’re going to wind up with a life that doesn’t include fame, fortune, or superpowers. Part of that shift in perspective is finding a place for those unrealized aspirations.
The good news is that we can wind up with something immeasurably more valuable and important. We can end up with a life full of meaning, love, and ultimately, fulfillment. The trick is to redirect our high aspirations toward those goals. It means going all in on becoming our essential selves and creating a vision for our lives. It means having aspirations that are in tune with our values and our worldview. It means developing genuine friendships with people we know intimately and who know us equally well. The trick is achieving all of this, along with knowing how valuable and special it is.
Finding a balance between acceptance and openness to change
Gaining this perspective doesn’t mean we have to stop growing as a person or stop pursuing exciting opportunities. We should always be open to change in whatever form it comes. But we should never think any specific change is going to make us happy if we’re not capable of happiness now. A common example of this is wealth. Many people have sacrificed a great deal to amass wealth, only to find themselves still lonely, discontent, and unsatisfied. With such high expectations, it’s likely that we would become less satisfied, not more, if we became wealthy. Why? Because the aspects of our life that provide us with happiness—genuine relationships, meaningful activities, and gratitude—do not necessarily come with wealth or possessions.
We must find these meaningful elements in the present, no matter what the present looks like. Sometimes this isn’t easy, especially if we are going through a rough patch or have recently had an upsetting experience. But acceptance of the present is a necessary element in being happy. Noticing the good things in our lives—our friends, the sun on our faces, the food we eat—and being grateful for them can go a long way toward achieving life satisfaction. When we have this as a foundation, we can be open to change that is positive and healthy. When we establish goals and make plans for the future, it should not be because we feel only some future change will make us satisfied. It should be because that change will help us grow and evolve.
Your good life is right there inside of you and around you. You just have to see it for what it is.
I want more of it.
It’s just beyond my reach, but I know it’s there.
I see evidence all around,
it’s here and it abounds.
I just have to find it.
First I have to figure out what it is.
It’s something I’ve always wanted.
For as long as I remember,
to make the world surrender,
and give it to me.
I’ve had it in my hands,
But it always slips through my fingers.
I try so hard to hold on—
it’s here and then it’s gone.
I keep searching for it.
Other people have it.
I see it in their faces, in the way others look at them.
Why can’t I have it too?
I’d have it if I knew.
Then people would look at me that way.
I can’t stand it.
I can’t live life without it.
But I resign to life without it.
And though I hate to admit it,
I’m good—for the first time in a while.
And then I see it.
It’s been with me all the time.
It was there but in disguise
I only had to realize
It’s with me all the time.
I open my eyes and it’s there.
I have just to be it
and let it flow through me.
I will become free
of the never ending quest