“I wish that I knew what I know now, when I was younger” – Faces
There’s a lot of barriers to happiness in our lives, that we don’t figure out until we get older. As someone who’s on the cusp of turning 30, I often laugh when I think about what my younger self imagined life would be like by this age. 6 foot 2. Rock star. Comedian. Cut to reality; I sit at a desk for 45 hours a week, my 5 foot 5 frame barely touching the floor as I occasionally charm the odd chuckle out of my work colleagues. BUT, I’m happy. How is that possible? Psychologists would probably accuse me of suffering from “synthetic happiness”, but I like to think of it as good old fashioned “growing up”. So here’s my top 5 tips for how to minimise devastation when your teenage dreams become adult nightmares:
1) Lower your expectations
“The truth is what is, and what should be is a fantasy. A terrible lie that someone gave the people long ago” – Lenny Bruce.
One of the biggest reasons for unhappiness is when the gap between where you want to be in life vs where you are is too wide. Sadly, this gap is often created for us. We don’t know what we want half the time, so we look to things like sensationalistic TV shows, or social media’s artificial highlight reels, to tell us what we want. This leaves us daydreaming our way through our boring-by-comparison lives thinking things like “If only I was riding a heavily sedated elephant through the jungles of India, THEN I’d be happy”.
But 10 hours of flights and 9 minutes of mammalian transport later, you disembark dilapidated Dumbo to find that not only are your pockets empty, but oddly, so are you. Why? You did the thing that the happy people are doing! So why are you still unhappy?
Because you allowed your expectation of happiness to be dictated to you by someone else. True happiness comes from within, not from other people. You need to figure out what makes you happy, and ignore what everyone else is doing. Which leads me on to…
2) Stop comparing yourself to other people
“Comparison is the thief of joy” – Theodore Roosevelt
It’s far too easy to fall into the habit of mindlessly scrolling through Facebook, clicking on endless profiles of people (sometimes who we don’t even know!) living seemingly amazing lives. And with each click, another pixel of self-esteem gets eviscerated until all we’re left with is a translucent shell of the person we logged in as. But there’s ALWAYS someone better off. Even Steve Jobs (when he was alive!) must have had days where he’d google “Bill Gates” and suddenly develop an overwhelming urge to close his curtains and get back in bed. But comparing yourself to other people is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. The only person you should compare yourself to is you, a year ago, five years ago, ten years ago. If you can see a clear path of progression, you’re on the right track.
3) Kill your vampires
“You’re the average of the five people you spend the most time with” – Jim Rohn.
Vampires are people who suck the energy out of you. You come to them with some good news about yourself, it triggers their own insecurity around their perceived lack of success, and suddenly what was supposed to be you receiving congratulations for the cool thing you’ve done, turns into a therapy session for the other person, leaving you feeling less happy and more exhausted than when you arrived. These people are drains, and they will always try to diminish your success, because they’re unhappy. Instead, surround yourself with radiators, people who encourage you and inspire you to be the best version of yourself. Take stock of your immediate circle right now. Do those people add or subtract from your existence? If the answer is the latter, remove them.
4) Have goals
If you were going on a long journey, you wouldn’t leave the house without planning how to get there first. Life is a journey! If you want to get somewhere, you need a plan. And in order to make the right plan, you need to figure out where you truly want to be. Ask yourself the following questions: What would your dream day look like? What would you do if money was no object? If you could wake up tomorrow and be anything what would it be? Really try to visualise how you want your life to look on a day to day basis, and then start setting some goals that will help pull you towards that vision.
Exercise: Write down 3 goals that you want to achieve by the end of the year, and then break them down into smaller chunks that you can achieve per month, per week etc, until finally you have an idea of what you need to do every single day to guarantee that by the end of the year you will have achieved your goals. And don’t beat yourself up if you miss a day or fall behind. No one’s perfect! Just take some time regroup, update your schedule and get back on track. And most importantly…
“Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans” – John Lennon
Be driven, but not overdriven. If you’re always looking to the future, you lose sight of the present. It’s good to work hard towards something, but it’s even better if you can enjoy the process. Even if it’s just 10 minutes a day to read a book, meditate, dance. Whatever brings you peace and joy. And if you don’t know what that is, TRY things. Pick one new thing each week that you never thought you’d like in a million years and DO it! What’s the worst that could happen? It all goes horribly wrong and you end up with a funny story to tell at the office the next day.
So there you have it, my 5 top tips from an averagely successful, mildly contented, close to 30 year old, who’s alright with life. I hope they help! 🙂