What does it really take to be satisfied? We asked some of the smartest people we know.
Can I Make My Job Meaningful?
I've been a house painter, a waiter, an improv actor, and I can say that all jobs are boring sometimes. Right now I am in a dream job, but still there are meetings where I'm counting the tiles on the floor. Instead of blaming my work, I ask myself how I can make it more interesting. When I was painting windowsills, I had a rich fantasy life -- I'd be a senator one day, a famous poet the next. I imagined having an office on K Street in Washington, D.C., with a potted plant, and within a year, I actually ended up in an office on K Street with a potted plant. I don't believe in mind magic, but your imagination can be the beginning of your future. And a little boredom and dissatisfaction may give you the motivation to change. If there are other people around, that's another kind of opportunity: They may have things to teach you, or ways to inspire you. The other guys on the painting crew were a legion of unemployed philosophy majors, and we had some of the most interesting conversations of my life.
- G. Richard Shell, professor at the Wharton School and author of Springboard: Launching Your Personal Search for Success
"When I walk out into the world, I take no thoughts with me. That's not easy, but you can learn to do it. An empty mind is hungry, so you look at everything longer, and closer. Don't hum! When you listen with empty ears, you hear more. And this is the core of the secret: Attention is the beginning of devotion."
- Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Mary Oliver, author most recently of Dog Songs
Should I Think Big...
Ask yourself if you're thinking big enough. Are you setting a goal or an intention? Intentions come from the soul -- they represent who we aspire to be. If you want to write a book, that's a goal, but it comes from a deeper intention: to express yourself. Setting an intention is not about imagining a BMW and waiting for it to appear; you're planting a seed in your consciousness and giving it time to bloom, maybe in a way you've never imagined. On our site we've found that the things people really want are love, connection, and purpose. My intent is to be a good mom, and that's something I share with women from South Africa to Mongolia. Our most profound desires are pretty universal.
- Mallika Chopra, founder of Intent.com
...Or Manage My Expectations?
A friend had an Indian guru who was the embodiment of love, and the guru died. Bereft, my friend went back to India and stayed with the guru's principal disciple, and one day the disciple said, "Do you want to see the precious thing the guru left for me?" Then he pulled out something wrapped in an old Indian cloth and ceremoniously uncovered a beaten-up pot. He said, "Do you see?" My friend answered, "No. What are you trying to tell me?" And with a mad glint in his eye, the disciple said, "You don't have to shine!"
I have found that idea so helpful: You don't have to shine. In my life, I've been lucky enough to befriend many spiritual teachers, and to see that they didn't shine either. They were normal people with normal problems. Of course you should try to make the biggest life possible, but be realistic. If everyone were perfect, we wouldn't be in the human realm. And we wouldn't be developing our hearts.
- Mark Epstein, MD, psychiatrist and the author of The Trauma of Everyday Life
And What About My Thighs?
It's hard to find peace with your thighs, but when they chafe, try to be grateful for them. Your thighs let you run and get you where you want to go. I have not just thigh peace but thigh happiness, and it begins with thigh gratitude.
- Comedienne Margaret Cho, who is currently touring with her stand-up show Mother
How Do I Embrace Change?
Eight years ago, I was a novelist living in a comfortable suburban home. I had financial security and a husband. But my happily ever after wasn't turning out happily, and so I moved with my three children to a century-old farmhouse in West Virginia. I was ready to be challenged by the unknown.
And, boy, was I challenged.
I'd always dreamed of having a farm, but I soon realized I didn't know the difference between hay and straw. I'd never been close to a chicken, much less a cow. (A cow that would kick me, and the milk bucket, repeatedly.) There were many low points in the months to come, as I battled the woodstove that I couldn't light and chased my goats when they jumped the fences. But I was also living a life beyond my imagination, and no hardship was bigger than the satisfaction of finding the courage to live it. As a writer, I know change is part of the plot; that's how your character evolves. And with change, there is grief for what has been lost, but also opportunity -- and the choice of how to see it. Choose wonderful.
- Suzanne McMinn, author of Chickens in the Road: An Adventure in Ordinary Splendor