Perhaps it's the stage of life I'm in, mid-life, where I've noticed the conversations with my friends has taken on a slightly different tone than when we were younger. During our 20s discussions were often filled with lofty talk about our future. We'd talk about our goals, hopes and dreams, with an occasional "guy or girl story" sprinkled throughout our conversation. Now most of my contemporaries are in their 40's or older. Many of us have met some, if not a lot of the important goals, we set out to achieve. Some of these achieved goals are even the ones we dream't and talked about, during our younger years. One might think this would create a sense of glee, or at the very least some sliver of self satisfaction, but I have found the opposite to often be true. The interesting thing about goals is there are always new ones waiting to be born. Only the goals of adulthood don't always benefit from the veil of grandiosity or hopeful feelings, so typically felt during our youth. Adult goals, although still equally longed for and dreamt about, get internalized along side a healthy dose of reality; a by product of living life and in some cases being humbled by it.
Now while this might sound a little depressing, it did get me thinking.
Why is it so hard to feel satisfied with our lives?!?
What is it our psyche craves?
What do we need in order to feel inspired, grateful and at peace with ourselves; especially while pursuing the life we say we want?
Are we responding to societal messages about conspicuous consumption?
Or is it some early parental message entrenched into our brains?
Is it our competitive and aspirational nature, constantly gnawing at us, telling us we're not enough or don't have enough, in order to keep us moving forward?
Is it because we don't have as much as some of the people around us?
Or is it that we aren't living up to some fantastical, societal ideal, we've too easily bought into?
There's a reason why so many people are self-medicating themselves with compulsive shopping, eating disorders, alcohol or other substances and/or needlessly taking prescription medications to numb the pain. The message we're responding to, is that we're not good enough, unless we "fill in the blank". So as both a therapist and person who occasionally falls victim to these feelings too, I wonder, what's the answer? If meeting some of our goals doesn't quiet our discontent, what will? I realize I might have bitten off more than I can chew, but what the heck... it's worth a try.
There will always be aspects of our lives, which get us to feel frustrated, bored, unhappy, powerless and victimized. It's far easier to feel the negative aspects of our lives than it is to feel the positive ones. It's just the way our brain works. Some of the goals we've achieved too easily fade into the backdrop of our lives. They become a given, like the air we breathe. We crave newness and new goals to accomplish, or our lives can start to feel boring or stagnant. Once we reach a certain level of accomplishment, it bumps us up to a new level, where we then get exposed to and see yet another level of what we still don't have. Or we become acquainted with people around us, who seem to have more of "whatever it is" we want to achieve.
Chasing some of our more illusive goals can prove upsetting and make it hard to feel successful or good in our own skin. So how do we take back our power and learn to embrace the complexity of our lives, both the positives and negatives, without being so hard on ourselves? Part of the answer is to realize difficult feelings about ourselves and our lives are unavoidable. And it doesn't matter how well we're doing in life, either for us to suffer from these painful feelings. Feeling negative about ourselves doesn't mean we're doing something wrong. It's just a part of the human condition. Achieving a level of happiness and satisfaction is not a final destination, but a place to visit during our life's journey. Hopefully it's a place we'll get to visit more often than not.
One way to feel more content is to learn how to broaden our criteria for judging ourselves; to not view our successes and failures so narrowly. Use obstacles as an opportunity to transform our circumstances. And to include people in our lives who remind us of who we are and who we are meant to be; especially when we've lost our way.
Perhaps most important of all, we need to train our minds, when it comes to being kind to ourselves. It's certainly easier said than done, I know, but totally worth the effort.