Why Your Future Plans Won't Make You Happy

Obviously I’m all for setting intentions (not goals!) for myself around here but I’ve come to some realisations over the years, and I’m sure some of you have been through scenarios like this too.

Have you saved up for a new car (or any new possession), dreaming what it will be like to finally have it, then a week or maybe a month after getting it (and trying to keep it sparkling clean!) it becomes no big deal?

Did you plan your milestone birthday / wedding / other occasion, working on every detail and planning the perfect outfit, only to come crashing down to earth the day or days after when the anti climax of the event being over kicked in?

It’s all a little depressing yes, but all comes back to the false theory of “I’ll be happy when…” I hate to break it to you readers but this is all an illusion.

If it wasn’t, wouldn’t you be happy now, since I’m sure you’ve had those thoughts before, reached your goals, and thought I’ll be happy when I’m done with ‘X’?

So what can you do to be happy right now?

Practice gratitude

An obvious one, but a goodie. One of my guided meditations from Stop, Breathe & Think is all about gratitude and I love choosing this one in the morning.

It asks you to think about all the people who have supported you in your life, all the people you don’t see who make the world tick as it does for you (think roads, food in your grocery store, etc) and to think about the freedoms you have in your life that so many others don’t.

I love thinking like this and not taking seemingly obvious things for granted. Look around readers, there’s a lot to be grateful for right now.

Go after feelings, not just goals

I’m sure many of you have heard of Danielle LaPorte’s Desire Map. I haven’t done it fully myself but do support the idea of picking core desired feelings and aiming for those instead of focusing solely on goals.

Not to the level of Danielle’s work, but I have picked my top three desired feelings for each day in the past and came up with ‘excited’, ‘energised’ and ‘satisfied’.

If I keep that in mind when deciding what to do each day (or even approaching things I don’t get to decide on with those feelings), I notice a huge difference. You can try Brooke Castillo’s worksheet on this here.

Realise this is all there is

A little morbid but I guess we all know we’re not necessarily promised any future other than today. That’s a struggle to comprehend but is incredibly grounding too.

One of the exercises I did in Self Coaching Scholars was to write out my ideal day.

What really surprised me was that, despite often trying to improve, I’m really not that far from the days I want to have.

Although it can sometimes seem boring or repetitive, on my ideal day, I would still do yoga, meditate, write to you guys, do some coaching and exercise.

I could pass them off as ‘have to’ tasks in my life, but after completing the exercise I realised I really want to do all of them.

How can you find happiness now, instead of waiting for it in the future?

 

November Recap and December Intentions

A grey November morning with a surprise visitor...

A grey November morning with a surprise visitor...

Holy smokes, it truly is the end of 2016. Where is the hoverboard I was promised? 

I’m looking back on a productive but tumultuous year and participating in one of my favourite online programs - the Holiday Council with Molly Mahar from Stratejoy. More about that shortly.

November involved a busy time at work learning some new skills (I initially dreaded this but am now really enjoying it - who knew?), my first trip to a kinesiologist (would you be interested in hearing more? Let me know in the comments below) and, my personal favourite, some great catch ups and meaningful conversations with family and friends.

So let’s look back on my November intentions and set some final ones for the year.

Chill out

Uh, yeah, I did not succeed at this intention. My personal development tendencies are still going strong, however I did definitely cut back.

As I mentioned, I am doing the Holiday Council and have been chatting to the lovely Paige from Healthy Hits the Spot, however I’ve definitely reduced the number of self-help books and podcasts I’m dipping into.

Instead, I’m listening to more music (remember this song from Nelly? It's making me oddly happy at the moment) and more storytelling podcasts like Modern Love and Phoebe’s Fall. I’m also reading Helen Garner’s new book of essays, Everywhere I Look - her writing also makes me super happy. If you haven’t read her, I highly recommend.

December Intentions

Take stock

The Holiday Council is a 3 week program run through December, where you wrap up the year that was, and start planning for the year ahead.

My favourite parts of Holiday Council are:

  • the visualisation Molly does on one of the live calls where you go forward 12 months and see what your ‘future self’ is up to
  • the monthly planning of activities you want to complete throughout the next year
  • the quarterly review calls Molly does throughout the year - these are sometimes free so subscribe and keep an eye out!
  • choosing my word for the year - my word of 2016 was ‘Choice’ and I’m looking forward to choosing one for 2017.

Be present

Just like the year itself, the holiday period and the events that come with it will inevitably fly by.

I do love this time of year, so want to be present and enjoy the time I have with friends and family, in particular enjoying activities I don’t do as often throughout the rest of the year (swimming, water skiing, gorging on shortbread, peaches and nectarines).

Laura Vanderkam put it best in her ‘How to make time slow down’ newsletter from 2015:

“For the door does close, and eventually I will be looking back on all of this. Even happy moments bear in their shadows this melancholic reality. All moments are finite, the good, and the bad. All you can do is choose to deepen your experience of them.”

 

November Recap and December Intentions

November is nearly done and we’re heading into true holiday season (and also summer) here in Australia.

These intention posts have been great for me. They keep me grounded to a few specific aims throughout the month and also make me look ahead to the next period.

So how did I do last month?

Schedule quarterly shopping days

I certainly scheduled this a few times, but as I was away on trips three weekends of the month, this one fell a little flat.

I did spend one Sunday afternoon trying on clothes with no luck (why is it all cheesecloth and resort wear at the moment?) so went back and did some shopping on my old favourites: Asos and Adore Beauty for some online fulfilment.

The good news is scheduling the day made me actually assess what is missing in my wardrobe.

Plus, I had plenty of other fun things on this month so I know I can schedule one of these to brighten up a less exciting weekend in the future.

Eat more frogs at work

I wasn’t doing so well on eating frogs until I moved desks to a quieter part of the office.

We’ll see if it lasts but the change of scenery and quieter atmosphere has made it much easier for me to plan my days and get rid of those pesky frogs that have been hanging around for weeks (or months), but I have never bothered to do.

As I mentioned in this post, I’ve also received the PDF of the new Productivity Planner and have been trying to narrow down my top three tasks of the day, knowing if I get those done, I’ll feel satisfied and accomplished.

Plan for the holidays

There are three key areas for me around Christmas - organising gifts, stocking up on my favourite food and drink, and making sure my calendar aligns to all the fun events ahead.

The gift and refreshments list is written and my calendar is happily bulging at the seams.

Once those items are ticked off, I then make sure I donate to charity for Christmas to help those who don’t have the luxury of planning the holiday season the way I do.

December intentions

Swim

pool-swimming-where-light-plays.jpg

I was lucky enough to grow up in a house with a pool, so summer to me definitely includes swimming.

This one has been a struggle for me for a few years now, as I live over an hour from any decent beaches and I generally put off going to public pools.

Planning in my dips is the main roadblock here so I’m going to keep an eye on the weather forecast, lock in a few beach and pool trips, and I know for sure I’ll be able to swim over the family Christmas at the very least.

Do outdoor yoga

How nice does this sound? I read about outdoor yoga classes in our local newspaper last year, and have wanted to try it since.

I’ve done beach yoga, but as I mentioned I’m a bit far from the ocean to recreate that any time soon. I'll start here and see if I can rope a friend in to join me.

Enjoy events

Ok, I think I’m reusing one of October’s intentions, but how important is this? The month of December will fly by and it’s easy to get lost in the busy-ness of the season.

“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”
― Henry David Thoreau

Gratitude 101

 
gratitude.jpg

Do you feel like you’re always reaching? Like when you buy that thing, or get that job, or finish that goal, you’ll be happy? I’ve heard these aspirations called many things including shiny pennies, carrots, vision boards, bucket lists.

On the flip side, I’ve also read a lot about gratitude and living in the present moment. No longer reaching and living a life of ‘I am happy now’, not ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Back when I started looking into positive psychology, I shared the strategies to a more satisfying life from Professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, researcher and author of The How To Of Happiness. Even though they sounded simple, I wanted to look further into her research.

A good proportion of the tactics she discusses come back to gratitude – being grateful, expressing wonder at the world around you and counting blessings. Research has shown that practising gratitude regularly can have a huge effect on your outlook, disposition and overall happiness.

The truly fascinating part of Sonja’s research is that she has ascertained that:

  • 40% of our happiness is in our control and can be influenced by intentional activity
  • 10% is based on circumstances outside of our control
  • 50% is genetically determined.

Only 40% control makes me want to work harder, so gratitude is a new focus. When I say working hard, the premise is actually to be satisfied with your life as it is, but that can be harder work than I thought...

Below are some of my favourite practices, and some I’m yet to implement:

Five grateful thoughts each morning

This is perfect for the newbie to gratitude or those that feel they don’t have enough time to be grateful (an oxymoron?). Every morning before I get out of bed, I list the first five things that pop into my head that I’m grateful for. It sets a good frame of mind for the day and stops me moaning that it’s too early to get up.

Mantras and affirmations

Taking a mantra through your day is something I learned from Gabrielle Bernstein’s book May Cause Miracles. The book is based around daily practice in meditation, but also gives you an affirmation to use as needed over the course of the day. You can either set a few reminders in your phone or go back to it when you’re feeling overwhelmed or when you have a quiet moment. A few of my favourites are:

  • I’m grateful for this moment
  • I could see peace instead of this
  • I am responsible for what I see

I could go on and on with these ones… And she also has a very cute app that you can use as your alarm.

Journaling

I’m not a regular journal-er but it’s a popular gratitude practice. Writing down at the start or end of each day what you’re thankful for helps ground you and is great to refer back to on a not-so-great day. Plus there’s so many nice journals out there to choose from right?

Photos and quotes around your home

Ok, I’m not a big fan of the ‘dance like nobody’s watching’ sign, but there is strong research into the fact that having an uplifting quote around the home and surrounding yourself with photos of family and friends increases gratefulness. The photos in particular remind us of the amazing people in our lives, the places we’ve travelled, the celebrations that stood out. Even when we’re in the humdrum of everyday life, reminders of these can keep us grounded and increase our satisfaction with life in general.

   Some moments I like to remember.

 

Some moments I like to remember.

Gratitude letter (and visit...)

I’ll be honest and tell you this one terrifies me a little. Martin Seligman, pioneer for positive psychology, developed this exercise. You think of someone who has made a major impact on your life, write them a gratitude letter and visit them to read it in person. I would love to hear if anyone has done this or is interested in doing it. I imagine it would be a hugely powerful experience.

Celebrating moments

I am so guilty of this one and am working on this for 2015. I am a goal setter and luckily most of the time, a goal achiever. But what I forget to do is stop and celebrate each goal, rather than rushing right by on to the next one or brushing it off as not a big deal. Living in the present moment is about celebrating these achievements, for yourself and others. And why not take a photo and put it up in your house to remember it?

I’d love to hear how you practise gratitude? Or if any of these are enticing you to start?