Recently, I’ve been hearing a lot of stories from clients about how unhappy they are in their present circumstances, and if only they could have more money, land a better job, move somewhere more exciting, find the right partner,__________(fill in the blank), life would be oh-so-much-better. I am really good at this form of wishful thinking myself. Anytime I find myself bored, lacking enthusiasm, or lonely, I come up with some exciting life-makeover plan that will surely cure all of my ills (or so I’m convinced).
As of late, it’s been dividing my time between a small town and a city. I have somehow deluded myself (and perhaps my husband?) that I would be a much happier, healthier, more vibrant version of my present self if I lived in two places. I can spend countless hours checking out real estate in more exotic, exciting places and daydream and scheme about all of the fabulous opportunities that would magically open up to me if I were to immerse myself in big city living once more.
The funny part however, is that I spent more than thirty years in Canada’s biggest cities, and was perhaps even more miserable than I am now. Okay, I am being a bit dramatic. I am not miserable now- just always looking for something bigger, better, and more exciting than what is right here in front of my nose. The only comfort I get is when I see clients every day who seem to suffer from this same form of self-induced malaise. From what I see, hear, and read, I would say it’s a social epidemic- perhaps even a luxury for those of us who have the time to sit and pontificate on the question of whether we’re “happy” or not. I’m wondering if it’s a generational thing that started with the Baby Boomers in the 1960’s. That’s when my parents came of age and when self-realization and the pursuit of happiness became the new religion.
I mean, how many of our grandparents worried constantly if they were “happy” or “fulfilled”? I know mine were too busy escaping the Nazis and Anti-Semitism to focus on such concepts. They were simply SURVIVING. And thank goodness they did, otherwise I wouldn’t be here writing this in the first place.
And it’s not just our grandparents who didn’t have that luxury of self-reflection. There are millions of people all over the world who are just fighting to stay alive and don’t know if they will have clean water, food, or a roof over their heads every day. And yet, from all of the film footage I’ve seen, it seems to me, that at the end of the day, these folks seem happier than most of us who ‘have it all’ materially. I don’t mean to generalize because I have no idea how happy these people are, but what seems to be true is that they have a very different concept of “happiness” than we do.
My experience of North Americans is that with all of our technological advances, wealth, and relative safety, we are one lonely mass of people. In fact, there was a book recently written about this that a lot of my clients are talking about. I think that it is often loneliness and a sense of being disconnected from others that leads us in search of a “geographical cure”. We reason that we’re lonely/disconnected/lacking a life of meaning because we live in a cold, urban, money-grubbing city. Or the opposite-we’d have more connection/meaning if we got out of this small town and immersed ourselves in big city life.
But one thing I’ve learned in my 38 (almost 39!) years, is that wherever we go, we take ourselves with us. In other words, if you are a doom and gloom thinker, you’re going to take that attitude with you wherever you move and will probably have a similar life experience as the one you left behind. Why? Because you may have changed the scenery, but the inner landscape of your mind has remained the same.
I always find it amusing when I hear someone say that they have to go off to some far away place to “find myself”. My automatic thought is, “Just look in the mirror- you’re right there!” That’s why I feel that therapy is so important in today’s world- we can change a lot of the stuff on the outside, but it’s of very little use unless we change what’s in the inside (our minds). So go take a looksie in the mirror and smile at what you see; you’re the only you there is- like it or not. And maybe with a bit of an attitude adjustment, things will look even better…