“I’m not sure why I agreed to this,” you groan under your breath, pulling into a driveway that you’d rather not be pulling into. You box up the cake you didn’t want to bake for the person whose friendship often feels like a job. You gather the bags of plastic forks and paper plates, shoving your dread all the way back down, sliding your happiness mask into position.
Truth be told, you’d rather be eating Cheez-its in your PJ’s, sloppy top-bun in full effect. Perhaps binge-watching Bridgerton from the comfort of your living room.
“How do I always get sucked into this?” you ask yourself. The call timer multiplies from minutes to hours. You take a slow, tired gulp of your wine, listening to the same ramblings you’ve heard hundreds of times before. You know there are more interesting things you could be doing.
But you just keep on betraying your own time.
“I’m not sure how you found yourself here,” you hiss at your own reflection. It feels like you’re staring down a black hole of regret–one that’s exploding with questions for the person you once were.
Why didn’t she write that screenplay? Why didn’t she keep those appointments? Why didn’t she set those boundaries and ask for that raise and sign up for those webinars? Why did she say everything was okay when it wasn’t at all?
Perhaps you know this story well. And, if so, take heart because you’re not alone. Pre-Covid, the 2019 World Happiness Report determined that chronic discontentment is infecting the whole world, with the United States being especially struck with an “epidemic of addictions.”
Which is also to say that, in every moment of every day, cities and towns and villages all over the globe are populated with gifted, intelligent and resourceful people unnecessarily torturing themselves with things they hate, all the while turning a cold shoulder to the things that might delight them most of all.
The truth is, if you’re doing it, you do want it. Even if you hate it.
Human beings are desire-driven creatures. Studies in neuroscience show that, in order for humans to feel happy most of the time, they actually need to be in a state of dreaming and reaching for more and more. Everything about human behavior is connected to desire.
But here’s the catch: sometimes we want things that we don’t want to want.
For example, you said you wouldn’t have a second glass of wine tonight. You’ve got a potentially life-altering presentation at work tomorrow and you’d for sure love to dodge the hangover and puffy eyes. But, here you are again, pouring it up, drinking it down and crawling into bed feeling like a weakling. Because even though you don’t want to want the glass of wine, and certainly don’t want the icky consequence of overindulgence, you want the experience of drinking it.
Or, maybe you’d love to be free from the incessant need for your co-workers’ approval and validation. You fantasize how you’ll stand boldly in your ideas and opinions, even if they clash with everyone else in the room. You envision how you’ll awe everyone with your bravery and confidence. The thought of it makes you tingle with pride.
Yet, you find yourself at the weekly lunch meeting, quietly chomping on your salad, nodding and smiling at strategies and plans that make you cringe. You so badly want to be the person who gives light to their creativity and volume to their truth, but you also want the dopamine rush of approval from your peers.
We have lots of desires. Humans are, essentially, multi-angled, ever-evolving chameleons of desire. But some of those desires are ones we really, really wish we didn’t have. Some of our most feverish desires give us our most undesirable outcomes. Make sense?
So, how then, does one snap out of it, and convince all of their desires to align?
First, remember that you have no idea how much ‘someday’ we’ve got left…
You might tell yourself that you’ve got plenty of months and years stretching out before you. Maybe you’ve lost count of the times you’ve said, “I’ll try for that soon. I’ll do it someday.” Or, perhaps, you think, “I’ll eventually feel comfortable enough to tell them how I truly feel.”
So, in the meantime, you raise your glass high for the champagne toasts, swipe your credit card for the wedding gifts, pay the congratulations, and pardon jabs from people who call themselves your friends. Mostly because it’s the socially acceptable thing to do.
But, in the next breath, you denounce your intuition and bite your lip to avoid the confrontation. You minimize your truth, in fear that you’ll be written off as too angry, too broken, too crazy, too opinionated, too unhappy or too weird.
And so the story goes. You let the months and years shuffle by, never having booked that trip, finished that song, learned that language, visited that loved one, returned that call, lassoed that opportunity or let that person know how they really, really feel.
…and the quest for social acceptance is an assassin to the self.
When you link arms with the things we hate, day after day, even in ways that seem innocent and small, those fragments of time string together your life–one that eventually feels heavy, hollow and meaningless. You then create heartache and resentment for yourself, acting as a cold-blooded assassin to the person you vowed to become.
What you’re tolerating, you’re agreeing to.
And you know what? This life is already laden with awful annoyances, bigotries and injustices. There’s death. There’s war. There’s taxes. There’s racism and misogyny and domestic violence and homophobia. Oh, so many awful things. But one of the most unnecessarily tragic of all is this: murdering your truth and well-being in cold-blood, just so someone else might accept you.
You’re the only one who gets to live inside of your body. The only one who gets to live inside of your mind. You’re the only one you can ever lose.
No one’s ever coming to hand-deliver your golden reality, except you…
No one’s ever going to knock on your door and handcuff you with courage or luck or motivation. No one’s going to ride in like a knight and send you galloping toward your dreams. You don’t have plenty of time to wait around for a sign or for a New Year to magically change you.
No one else but you can close the curtain on those toxic relationships, sign off from those unhealthy conversations, carve out those boundaries, ask for that pay raise, write those poems, quit that God-awful job, or clean up those eating habits.
So, then, what’s the solution? How does one attract a life they love and repel the things they hate?
The answer is so earth-shatteringly simple and unglamorous, few ever put it into action.
Happiness is not entirely circumstantial, but intentional. It requires action and focus. It’s a marriage of two things: decisions that are aligned with love and respect for the only life you’ll ever get, and the self-monitoring to maintain it.
If you want to live a life you love, take radical accountability, forevermore…
If certain conversations feel like treading through a toxic wasteland, decide to stop participating in them. No one’s forcing you to entertain stories that make you shiver with aversion. If time spent with someone causes red flags to wave wildly your mind, stop accepting the invitation. No one’s forcing you to be friends with someone you don’t like.
If social media swarms you with inadequacy and ickiness, either clean up who you follow or log off from it entirely. You’re not a hostage to anything, even if the rest of the world seems to be.
You’ve been granted the luxury of free will. This means you get to engage deliciously with all of the things that make you come alive–the landscapes that unlock you, the books that transcend you, the ideas that ignite you, the adventures that thrill you, the flavors that comfort you and the values that call you home.
What do you believe in? How do you want your tomorrow to feel and play out? This is what you’ve got to ask yourself, over and over again. Those are the things beckoning for your creativity, and emotional currency, and faith, and sweat, and tears…and time.
…because, when it’s all said and done, you’ll never get your time or money back.
One day you’re going to be a pile of bones, and all of those moments spent politely bumping up against the things you hate—all for the sake of what’s ‘polite’ or ‘acceptable’ won’t be handing you any badge of glory or trophy for your martyrdom.
So go ahead and take the scenic route to the family gathering. Say “yes” to meeting the spicy suitor for coffee. Upload the podcast, even at the risk of no one else ever thinking it’s cool. Purchase the domain name. Wear the lime green heels that bring a smile to your lips. Stand up for yourself the way you would for the child or parent you adore with all of your heart. Build a life–not just a series of fleeting moments–that you love. Not one that you want to love, and not one that you don’t want to hate, but one that you truly, vividly love.
Because the love is the only currency worth spending. And it’s the only legacy worth leaving behind. So make tons and tons and tons of it–through every minute, every hour and every day that you were never guaranteed in the first place.
If you’d appreciate some help combing through your most stubborn beliefs, habits and patterns, in order to build a tomorrow that you’re madly in love with, grab my luminous, science-backed 21-Day Radical Life Renovation: Anchor Joy, Explode With Confidence and Redesign Your Future.