There is a lot to be enjoyed in the world, enough to fill the entirety of life from the beginning to the end. In many ways, it’s right there in front of us, to be had at will. Yet some people hold off fulfillment until it arrives in the way that they want it to, convinced that happiness can only be found after they have the right relationship, or the right job, or a specified amount of money, or something else that they have determined is a pre-requisite for a good life. Are you one of those people? I know that I have been sometimes.
I didn’t travel at all, really, until four years ago. Apart from spending a summer in Liberia (a small country in West Africa) I’d seen little of the rest of the world, and almost nothing of my own country. Pretty much the entirety of my life was spent in the Midwest, and while I dreamed of seeing London more than any other place, I wasn’t getting there anymore than I was getting closer to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, the other two items highest on my bucket list.
I didn’t plan for travel because I didn’t have anyone to go with, and I thought traveling alone would be lonely. Thus, I took my vacations in my hometown with family, and once or twice went on a “staycation”, which is where you take time off at home, relaxing, visiting friends and just catching up. Neither of these were bad, but they weren’t very exciting either.
Then, an opportunity arose to visit Yellowstone and forced me to make a decision. Would I hang around my own place, with the days to myself while everyone was at work, or go it alone in the gorgeous scenery of a famous national park? That is, would I choose to do something I’d always wanted to – when I couldn’t do it the way that I wanted to – or wait until something changed and I could travel as I wished?
I know people for whom the choice would be to stay, because they couldn’t face doing anything alone, and they would settle for less rather than taking what was less than optimal. For me, that trip was a turning point, an eye-opener that made me see how much more fulfilling life was when I went after what I really wanted, even when it wasn’t everything I wanted.
(By the way, traveling alone didn’t turn out to be bad at all. I liked having my time to myself and being able to adjust my agenda to any possibilities that arose. I loved feeling free and responsible only for myself. I also ran into many interesting people from countries all around the world.)
Do you put conditions on your options? Do you have ideas you want that are on hold, waiting for the change that will make them possible? Are these things that you could go after right now if you really wanted to? Would you gain more by going ahead with those plans, or would you rather wait?
This has been an issue for me in the way that I think about and approach my life, but I see others doing the same thing in my work as a LifeMatters counselor. The cost to some seems to me to be considerable, but they pay it mostly because they don’t realize that they have other options and are locked into a rigidly defined road to personal happiness. They are locked in, and unfortunately, they make choices that don’t get them where they want to go.
Hopefully, you can ask yourself if you are unnecessarily limiting your happiness by putting it on hold, and maybe you will be inspired to make some needed and helpful changes. This article has a second half, and in that I want to describe further some of the pitfalls people run into when they are too rigid about the way to see happiness.