I know it’s cliche to say it’s not about getting what you want, it’s about wanting what you have, but I’m going to say it anyway. You have to remember to keep wanting the things you already have. We are constantly bombarded with the idea that we have to keep accumulating things and wealth and status to live the American Dream and keep up with the Joneses. It’s so ingrained in our culture that we live in a perpetual state of never being satisfied. We just keep telling ourselves, “If I can just achieve the next goal, then I’ll be happy.” Upgrade, upgrade, upgrade.
But it’s so important to remember that most of the things you have right now are things you once really wanted. Do not forget that, and better yet, remember to celebrate the fact that you were able to get something you actively worked for. I completed an exercise recently in which the assignment was to make a detailed list of things I want out of life. The instructions indicated that most people, when they do this, make an entire list of things they don’t have. Instead, strive to have every second or third item on the list be something you already have.
Normally, when I stumble upon exercises like this, I give them a little thought, maybe start a list in my head, maybe even think, “I should write this down...nah, too much work.” For whatever reason, this time I wrote it down on paper. I made a list of 25 things I want from life. 12 of them are things I already have (e.g., to be married, to have two kids, to own a bitchin’ bungalow, to have a pet cat, to drive the car I drive, to have an awesome front porch, etc.). Another few other items on the list are things I’m already working toward but haven’t fully achieved yet. The remaining items are things I want but don’t yet know when or how I will get them.
This idea was a game changer for me. For years and years, I would sit around feeling bad about all the things I wanted that I didn’t have. It never, ever occurred to me that I already had a whole bunch of things I wanted. It also did not occur to me that the mere thought, “I really want X but I don’t have it” feels bad, while “I want X and I’ve got it” feels good. It’s really easy to take the things we do have for granted but I promise it feels so much more satisfying to continue to acknowledge the things in your life that you actively sought and subsequently received. Even if you ultimate decide that you want to replace some of the things on your list, do take a moment to recognize the value the original thing brought to your life (as in, “I was so glad to have lived this apartment that fit into my budget and was conveniently located. Now I’m ready to move into a house.” or maybe even, “this job had its ups and downs but I’m thankful that it helped me identify some characteristics that are important to find in my next job”).
One last thought on this - I want to put it out there that it’s completely possible - and in some cases, advisable - to change your thoughts on a subject to improve how you feel. I’ll give you an example from my life: last year, I was fortunate enough to replace my old car with a new one. My old car was red, and I loved that about it. For a variety of reasons, not the least of which was that I wasn’t finding a red version of the car I wanted to buy with the features I was looking for, I ended up purchasing a gray car this time around. It’s a great car and I love so many things about it but it wasn’t long before I was spotting red versions of it on the road and eyeing them longingly. Honestly, it didn’t feel so great to be thinking I should’ve looked harder for a red car while I still owe a boatload of money on a gray car. So, I put an end to it. Here’s how I think about it now: I bought the exact car I was supposed to buy. I love it, I’m lucky to have it, and I’m going to drive it for as long as I can. When I’m done with it, the next car I buy will be red. It’s far more satisfying to be pleased with what I do have than to wish I had something different.
Now, I realize this example is fine when you have the luxury of choice but plenty of times in life, things come along and slap you upside the head and you don’t get any real say in the matter. I’m not suggesting anybody should go around reminding themselves how glad they are to have been laid off or how wonderful it is that their mom has cancer. But I do know that I have been through a lot of shitty things in life and there are positive things in my life right now that I would not have had but for living through the shitty things. I do think it’s possible to acknowledge the shitty things for the lessons they are teaching or the skills they are building. And I do think it’s possible to want to experience the lows in life so that you get to feel the full effect of the highs, if that makes sense. In the meantime, maybe start with something simpler and build up momentum before moving on to the more existential questions.