I was chatting with a friend this week who observed that her sister has studied and travelled but is struggling to find a man and have kids, while the only thing my friend ever wanted was marriage and babies and now that she has that, she’s left wondering if there isn’t more to life…
It’s a perfect storm of ‘grass is greener’ meeting one of the most dangerous ideas to threaten our mental health: that elusive concept of ‘I’ll be happy when…’
What ‘conditions’ do you put on enjoying your life? Are you holding off until you lose 5kg, or have another baby, or find a new house or a different job, or buy a Thermomix or see Europe or until your kids get through this stage, or your partner gives up weekend sport?
Is satisfaction is always beyond your reach? Are you missing opportunities for happiness now because, even though you have a room full of ducks, they are not lining up the way you want them to?
Australia recently ranked #102 in the world on the ‘Happy Planet Index’ – behind countries like Bangladesh, Burma and Costa Rica. I spoke at a conference on the weekend, at which a woman from Sierre Leone brought the house down and prompted a five-minute standing ovation after her inspirational speech about overcoming the horrors of genital mutilation and rape.
We each have our own challenges and, whether they are 'first' or 'third world problems', these are as real to us as the challenges that the person next door experiences. It is up to each of us to change our situation if we don’t like it.
Here’s a three-step plan:
Express gratitude for what you have already
Make a big list. A BIG one. I challenge you to write down 50 things that you are grateful for in your life. When I did this, I blurted out the first fifteen or so without batting an eyelid, then found myself having to really think about it. After a while, I was digging deeper than I thought I’d have to, and finding gold…
Learn to live in the moment
Are you sipping a coffee while you read this? Feel the warmth slipping down your throat. Same with the next thing you eat. Really taste it. Do you feel the warmth of your jumper, or the fire or the sun on your face? Do you really listen to your family?
Be aware of the proportion of your time that you’re spending in the past, present and future and ensure that you're mostly focused on right now – the memory-making time.
Set big goals
If you’re asking ‘what next’, stop lamenting the stagnation and make some plans. Get a big piece of paper and write down a heap of cool ideas, because there isn't one 'right path' to follow. Pick one of the dreams. What would you need to do to get there? What would that give you? What’s stopping you?
For more advice on goal-setting, check out this process.
Forget 'I'll be happy when…' – find something to love about now and start creating the next chapter in your life.
Emma Grey is the author of Wits’ End Before Breakfast! Confessions of a Working Mum (Lothian, 2005) and director of the life-balance consultancy, WorkLifeBliss. She writes on motherhood, work and relationships on her blog and her vampire-free teen fiction trilogy is currently with a publisher.