I’m 21 years old, about to graduate college, living in the United States.
In other words, a recipe for anxiety, stress, and the pressure to determine who I want to be, the angst over not being that person yet, and the internal twists and turns aligned with figuring out not only how to determine my dreams, but how to achieve them in a timely fashion.
I consider myself a happy person. I studied positive psychology extensively. I practiced meditation for an entire year. I’ve travelled to over 20 countries and witnessed different ways of living, selflessness, and gratitude. But the funny thing about happiness, contentment, security, is that you sometimes fall out of it – and in these brief moments it becomes easy to question yourself. And once you question yourself, you become at risk for one of our mind’s worst functions: rumination.
So I started questioning. And in a flux of changing passions, interests, and priorities, I became tangled in the American pursuit of the perfect life. I imagined myself living abroad again. I imagined myself succeeding in the creative pursuits that only currently amount to personal projects. I imagined myself with money, with praise, with a lifestyle that consisted of nothing dull, and everything grand. I focused on this imaginary me: smiling, wide-eyed, me at 110%.
Which meant, me now, this must be me at 50%. Not thriving, just average. How do I get there? How will I get there? These questions and challenges of becoming a dream, and the internal plundering of not yet being that dream, left me in a state I did not like.
I felt unstable, unhappy, yet I knew that I had every reason to be happy. I had a stable life.
I felt trapped, in ordinariness, waiting to be given a chance at an extraordinariness – even though I used to see ordinary as extraordinary to begin with.
And more than anything, I felt greedy. How privileged must we be to blindly believe that we deserve more than our privilege, that we sit unhappy because of our privilege, that an entitled thought of “more” can be rightfully justified by our distraught feeling of “wanting”.
I felt as if I needed the things I wanted in my life in order to be happy. And in order to obtain these things, I needed other things.
This perspective is easy to fall into, but it is false, and damaging. Because not only does it reframe your passions in terms of greed, ignoring the original genuine interests or excitements behind each goal, it also makes it difficult for you to be happy now. Which makes it difficult for you to be productive now (which makes it difficult for you to achieve your dreams in the first place).
It becomes difficult to be happy because our brains begin thinking in exactly that way: I will not be happy until I have these things.
And that’s exactly how I felt, fixated on these things I needed to accomplish, this life I needed in order to feel fulfilled. Yet at the same time I couldn’t bear to work towards accomplishing them. I felt stuck, stopped, and futile when considering the small projects or goals I set for myself. How would this become that? It was useless.
Self-doubt is something I steer clear of as soon as I can identify it; it signifies a wrong perspective, thoughts taken too far.
So instead of continuing to wallow in confusion, I decided to follow the general habits I usually practice to sustain good health.
Sometimes you on a good day is the best guidance for you on a bad day.
I keep a list, to check off every day – starting with meditation.
Except this time I wanted something more than simple breathing, than a short compassion meditation. So I looked up “achieve your dreams meditation” on YouTube (maybe the cheesiest moment of my life, I know, but bear with me here).
This is what I found.
And this is what it reminded me:
We already have everything we need to achieve our dreams, to be ourselves at 110%.
I imagined myself in the future, working in what I wanted, living where I wanted, and I thought about the qualities I would have. That’s when I realized, I would have the same ones I do today – drive, imagination, understanding, joy, sorrow, idleness, grandeur. It was all still there, the only difference was that I imagined myself without the doubt, I imagined myself content.
I still imagined myself chasing something – the next big project or the next big dream. I was just, content.
This is extremely important, because it reinforces the fact that happiness starts here (*point to yourself).
We tend to forget that our future selves won’t be that different, the main difference is that we imagine our futures to hold a stable contentment, when really, we can foster that contentment right now.
Read this with me: We are everything, right now, in this moment. We are worth everything – everything we want to be, everything we could be, and everything we dream of is right here, as ourselves, in this present moment.
You see, what we’re chasing is not actually fame. It is not prestige. It is not an award or a prize or a fitting-image of a lifestyle.
What we’re chasing is joy, contentment, happiness – real living. This comes from us (and it’s actually been proven quite extensively through scientific research).
I’ll end with one of my favorite Ted Talks of all time, one I watched nearly three years ago. I still watch it at times, because the message hits home. It’s what I love about positive psychology, and how we might continue to shape the world under a brighter lens.