“Life would be tragic if it weren't funny.”-Stephen Hawking
Life is tragic, though.
We spend our entire lives yearning for what we don’t have while completely ignoring what we do. We kick, yell and scream when we don’t get our way, as if the way we want is the only way.
We search for things with little understanding of what we actually want (and need). We are happy sometimes, but these times are fleeting, soon replaced by something else we need to attain to replace our feelings of joy. It’s a hamster wheel. Life is a hamster wheel, and we are all running frantically going no where.
Each person is different. We all possess things that others want. For example, I’m envious of those that have a close-knit group of friends. I haven’t had this in years, and so I yearn for it. On the flip side, I work for myself which allows me to wake each day and do exactly what I want, when I want. To those that have jobs and a schedule, they might be envious of my lifestyle. The corollary to this desire, for my life, is I often yearn for a stable schedule where I have to go and work around other people. Instead, I find myself working from home or in coffee shops.
Ahh, such is life: we want what we don’t have.
Being single, I see couples everywhere. Yet in my pursuit, I have trouble meeting a member of the opposite sex that is interested in what I want (a relationship of sorts), and that I am interested in beyond the physical. It seems like the more I yearn for this, the further away it gets. Because I yearn for this, I end up seeing it everywhere—happy couples waiting in line for coffee, eating out together, and plastered all over social media. Of course, this is just my brain playing tricks on me via frequency illusion.
Ahh, such is life: we want what we don’t have.
So, what happens when we get everything we want? Well, as is commonly seen amongst those that do—e.g., successful actors, musicians, politicians—we end up searching still for new things that we think will bring us a new fulfillment. But until we get to a point where we have everything we want, we have no way of knowing what we will want beyond that. For example, what’s going to happen once I have a family, the amount of income and success I want, and everything else I need and want in life? Am I going to search for what’s next, possibly to the detriment of what I have so painstakingly achieved? Well, I hope that my awareness of this problem is my first line of defense in not letting this happen, but either way, I can’t be sure.
This is known as hedonic adaptation and it is one of the root causes of unhappiness and discontent in our modern society. We are all stuck in a cycle of pursuing things that will bring us temporary—although hollow—joy and satisfaction before soon wearing off and moving on to the next thing.
What’s the answer? Is there one? Yes. Yes.
Of course, I don’t claim to know all the answers. But I do know of things that have helped me with this matter over the years as I’ve cycled through stages of fulfillment and loss in my life. I’ve had to adapt living a certain lifestyle and amounts of income over the years as I’ve fluctuated between abundance and lack thereof so often. This experience has led me to practicing minimalism and celebrating simplicity. It has removed my desire for “stuff.” Overall, I’m happy about the result.
Of corse, I still yearn for things mentioned above, but somethings are my biological imperative and I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to remove the desire for them—having a family/reproducing. So I wonder if it’s normal to yearn for these things. In a way, I think it is. It’s just Maslow’s hierarchy of needs playing itself out. Just like needing water, food and shelter, we all have a need to reproduce and love and to have friends and make a difference. These are the imperatives that make humans human. And so I pursue each understanding this while trying to be careful not to overdo it, which could lead to discontent.
There’s a technique that I’ve lately adopted as a means to appreciate the journey and hopefully help me appreciate the things I yearn for when I get them. The practice is called gratitude. And I think we should all start expressing gratitude in our lives as often as possible. Gratitude has a funny way of making us focus on what we have instead of what we don’t. The more you express gratitude, the more you step off the hamster wheel of chasing newness. It’s profoundly powerful. Then when we get what we’ve so desired and worked for, we are more likely to appreciate it fully instead of letting it bring us a temporary “hi.”
There are many ways to express gratitude. A couple I use include: The 5-Minute Journal, Anthony Robbins “Personal power” program, and a simple “What went well” practice every night that reflects on what I appreciate about my day. These practices are so useful for living a better life. I highly recommend them.
The first step is awareness. Then comes practice. And finally, experience. It takes work, as it should because anything worth having takes work.
Do the work: Start appreciating what you have. Get off the hamster wheel of chasing what's next. And when you get what you’ve so long desired, savior each and every second of it for it may leave you soon enough.
- Colin Stuckert