The Pitfalls of Looking Next: 5 Tips to Living Happily in Your Marriage

When looking forward becomes habitual, problems can start to develop. There is a reason that so many people (including grandparents, yoga instructors, self-help authors) tell you to live in the now. That's where happiness resides.
05/07/2013 12:19 pm ET Updated Jul 07, 2013

Looking to the next best thing is part of our American psyche. Perhaps it comes from that old push west and Manifest Destiny but we still see it today. Even I catch myself of looking next. Whether it's the newest blockbuster, fashion trend, job or relationship, we are all guilty of looking forward to the next big thing at some time. This attitude can be healthy in many ways but is also dangerous when it becomes habitual. The problem with constantly looking next is that it prevents us from finding satisfaction in living our lives now. Habitually looking next can be exciting but it can also lead to breakups, divorce and risky career moves.

Looking next is great for books and movies. It's even healthy when you are in the early stages of dating and beginning your career. It's always nice to look forward to the newest book by your favorite author or the next rom-com on the silver screen. At these stages, looking next keeps us moving forward. There is certainly a healthy respect for yourself when you can ask and answer, "Where will I be in three years? Five? Ten?" concerning a new relationship or career. These questions and a regular process of looking forward are healthy. Examining our careers and making sure we are happy and fulfilled are helpful. The same goes for relationships.

However, when looking forward becomes habitual, problems can start to develop. There is a reason that so many people (including grandparents, yoga instructors, self-help authors) tell you to live in the now. That's where happiness resides. You can look back fondly at the past but you won't find happiness there. You can also look forward to the next thing with anticipation but happiness isn't there either. Happiness only exists in the present moment. Many breakups, divorces and sudden career changes have been the results of habitually looking next. Without defining satisfaction for yourself in the present, relationships can consistently be doomed to failure.

Jake (name changed) came to me as a client for relationship recovery. He had dated numerous women over the previous decade and was beginning to grow concerned because his relationships never worked out. Part of his relationship recovery process at Divorce Detox involved mapping his past relationships. With Jake, we discovered that he was habitually looking for the next best thing. He'd begin to date someone, the relationship would grow, and then he would start thinking that there was something better around the next corner. Jake's issue was constantly looking forward to the next best thing. In his mind, Jake had been trained to see what was next, to look for the next thing to inspire happiness. This habit had poisoned his ability to find happiness in the present. Jake's dating habits were repeated time after time. Through the Dating Detox process, we were able to help Jake see his present reality instead of constantly looking into the future. When I last checked in with him, Jake was doing well with a new relationship, finding happiness in the moments with his new girlfriend.

With Jake, I used the following tools to help him move back to the present. These tools can be applied to your current relationship, future relationships and your career.

1. Practice Gratitude. Jake's problem, and a problem we see many times at the Divorce Detox Center, was a disconnect from gratitude. Always looking into the future, Jake had forgotten to see the blessings all around him. As part of his program, I asked Jake to list five things every day that he was grateful for (at least one new thing each day). Overtime, Jake began to see things, big and small, that filled his life with happiness and joy.

2. Observe. Take time every day to observe the world around you. Some people do this in prayer or meditation. Others do it by people watching, quietly sitting on their lunch break or taking five to ten minutes of quiet relaxation after they get home from work. Focus on the sounds and objects around you. Don't judge them; rather, label them. That is a chair. That is traffic. That is the bird chirping and the neighbor's dog barking. Just observe. Be neutrally in the present for a few moments each day.

3. Love Yourself. They say that you can't love another until you first love yourself. Everyone on the Divorce Detox team knows this to be true. Being comfortable with yourself and your own interests allow you to be comfortable with the lives and interests of others. Developing your own hobbies and pursuing interests not only makes you a well-rounded person; it makes you interesting. If you like hiking, join a Meet Up hiking group. If you've always wanted to take a pottery class, find one and do it. You can't love another unless you love yourself. We have to feed our own hearts with the things that bring us joy.

4. Adapt a new attitude. As Jake continued to work with the Divorce Detox Team, we focused on adapting his attitude. This is something that appears across all of our programing and has a powerful affect on your perception of the world around you. When you find yourself dwelling in a particular emotion, take a mental step back and examine it. How does the emotion skew your reality? If you are filled with negativity or a continuous need to look forward or reexamine the past, realize that you are skewing your perceptions. Reality is neutral; your thoughts and feelings affect its tone. Adapting an attitude of gratefulness, positivity, and joy will help you reframe the reality you perceive.

5. Find happiness in the now. Practice finding the things that make you happy right now. These can be anything. When you catch yourself in negative thinking, dwelling the past or looking next, start to identify the things that make you happy. For me, I love teaching. It brings me a great sense of fulfillment to help others with their relationships. My assistant loves creativity. He lights up whenever he talks about his art and poetry. I've had clients who are filled with emotion about things ranging from camping to documentary filmmaking. These things make them happy. Think of many things:your pet, your children, your favorite pair of shoes, the Oak tree outside your window. Rather than dwelling on the things that trouble your psyche, stick with the things that make it shine.