06/19/2013 01:21 pm ET Updated Aug 19, 2013

Why Things Are Never Good Enough for You

A few weeks ago I Ianded in Spain. I was ecstatic, all ready for a blissful vacation.

Turns out, it wasn't always so blissful. Moments of relaxation and joy were infused with other moments... of irritated glances and heavy sighs.

It happened because I had to do a lot of waiting... in line at the airport, at the bus station. Everywhere I went it seemed things were getting in the way of getting to the good stuff.

You know how it goes because it happens to you, too. We wait all the time. We wait for the light to turn green... we wait for our meal to arrive at lunch... we wait for the person in front of us at the supermarket to carefully write a check.

And we wait for other, bigger things too:

  • We wait for the day when we finally make enough money to feel secure.
  • We wait for the big promotion that will get us the title we deserve.
  • We wait for our kids to go to college so we can move to a new part of the country.

Waiting feels normal. So we accept it as best we can and we tell ourselves that this is just the way life is, that sometimes we just need to wait to get to the good stuff.

But let's think about what this mentality really means.

When we wait for the good stuff to happen in the future -- whether it's for the light to turn green or the job to get better -- what we're really saying is that the good stuff is not happening now. We're saying that this moment, the one we're in right now, is not good enough. And sooner or later, at another time, things will get better.

While this gives us solace, when we really think about it it's a pretty terrible way to live and work. Life is really just a whole bunch of "right now" moments strung together. If this moment is not what we want, and we constantly find ourselves waiting for a better future -- minutes or years from now -- then we're really just accepting our own unhappiness all the time.

And what happens in that future? We get the green light but then hit another red around the corner. We get that promotion and then we realize we need even more money to really feel secure. We get to move but then our furniture feels shabby. And so the cycle continues. And we're never happy, or as happy as we could be.

Does this mean we should forget about the future? That we should avoid setting goals or striving for even greater happiness and success ahead? Of course not.


If all we do is hang tightly onto a future moment and forget that this moment right now is life passing us by, then we'll never have the sense of peace, accomplishment and happiness that we could have.

So how do we turn the waiting game into something else... into a way of balancing our dreams for the future while making the most of the present?

A few steps:

  1. When we're waiting for something small, like a light to change or for our turn at the register, we look around and take everything in -- the sounds, people and color -- and we realize that this moment is different than anything we'll ever experience so we'd better appreciate it. And then we do.
  2. When we're impatiently looking to a future moment we realize we've got a lot to be grateful for at this moment -- and we force ourselves to remember at least one of them. And then we do.*
  3. When we're experiencing a particularly painful moment we decide to use our power to either take action now or to accept our present situation fully and find some peace. And then we do.
  4. When we look to a bright future we remind ourselves that whatever comes next will simply be added on to what we've got now... so we'd better make the most of it. And then we do.
(*A great trick for this is to start with the thought "Well, at least..." I did this when two kids were screaming behind me on a line, and I thought "Well, at least they're not mine." Worked like a charm.)

It's easier said than done, yes? I know because I work on this and sometimes just want to tell myself to shut up. And sometimes the pain of the present is so great that we need to focus on a better future.

And that's all fine and normal. But, we can still work on it.

That's why I decided to give it a try while I was in Spain... when I focused less on the long line at Starbucks and more on the beautiful sights, people and language around me. I was in Spain after all!

Oh, and I also remembered to feel grateful that I was able to find my favorite coffee shop so far from home in the first place.

This week:

Recognize how you spend time waiting for the small and big things in your life to get better -- and how it makes your present moment less happy.

Remember to focus on what you've got right now. Look around and take it in. Find some gratitude both for what you've got, and for the power you can use to take action.

Then celebrate yourself for making things good enough right now. And feel happier for it.

Now go do good... and do it well.

For more by Deirdre Maloney, click here.

For more on emotional wellness, click here.