What Are You Looking Forward To?

April 4, 2012

A couple weeks ago, Mary asked me one of those simple little questions that sometimes unlock profound insights.

She asked me, “What are you looking forward to?”

At the time, she was thinking of a trip we have planned to see her family this spring. It’s not a big deal. We were just chatting about schedules and details, when she said, “I’m really excited about this trip; what are you looking forward to?”

Her simple question set loose a series of “ponderings” that are still rattling around in my head. I thought about the old saying that, “in life we usually get what we expect.” I remembered President Obama’s campaign slogan about “hope and change” and his suggestion that we should look forward to better days. And I thought about how our expectations for the future impact our daily actions–and end up creating our future for us.

I also thought about how often we are encouraged to both “live in the present” and to “set goals for the future.”

There is a real paradox that while happiness is a present- moment, here-and-now experience, we are simultaneously encouraged to plan and build a better future, as if the present is badly flawed or unacceptable. So, which is it?

Do we live in the moment, savoring each glorious day? Or do we work harder, hoping that “someday” things will get better? Or, if it’s a mix of the two, what’s the proper ratio of pleasure today verses hard work for “tomorrow?”

In terms of peace of mind and ultimate success, what’s the magic formula? No one ever talks about that. So I’ve been pondering Mary’s question, “What are you looking forward to?”

I’ve come up with three answers that may help.

1.  We need happiness today! I seem to need something to enjoy, to laugh at or play with, just about every day.

Maybe that’s because I never learned about “delayed gratification,” but I have to look forward to dinner, or a movie, or walking my dog in the rain, or time to cuddle with Mary pretty much every day. Oh, sure, I’m a grown-up, so I can maybe wait a day or two, or even until the weekend, but joy is not something to postpone.

To stay motivated and focused, I need my “instant gratification” every day! I think most of us need (and deserve) some happiness and laughter, some fun and joy, every single day. Else, what’s all the work supposed to accomplish?

2.  We need periodic victory celebrations! I suspect there is tremendous wisdom in the “coincidence” that we celebrate various holidays every few weeks throughout the year. Most cultures celebrate the seasons of the year. We celebrate the first snow fall, the birds of spring, our birthdays and anniversaries and religious holidays. We all need something “just down the road” to keep us going.

Make sure you have lots of “30-day celebrations” on your calendar. Schedule weekends with a loved one. Use the various national holidays, or make up your own, but always have an event or a “finish line” just a few weeks ahead of you. And make sure it’s full of fun, a festival worth getting excited about! I think it helps.

3.  We need long-term goals and major celebrations. The research says that a sense of purpose, of doing important work and achieving big goals is essential for real happiness. And that sounds right to me. We need to know that we are doing things that matter, that we are making life better and contributing to human well-being. Even if the final victory is far down the road, we need to be going in a useful direction and doing important things.

I think too many of us get so serious about our long-term goals that we forget to celebrate the joys of life! Or, conversely, we get so caught-up in having fun–spending money, doing “stuff”–that we fail to accomplish the big, important and lasting things. As always, the key is balance.

My conclusions? Enjoy each day! Have some fun. Play. Make love. Fly a kite or romp with a dog. I like to celebrate each sunrise, but maybe that’s just me. Find your joy and celebrate it every day. But also look forward to a holiday, or a birthday, or any of the celebrations that will keep you focused through a season of hard work. And, above all, stay true to the major goals and purposes of your life. In the end, you want the sublime satisfaction of a life lived well. Never lose sight of that!

by Phil Humbert

Categories: Attitude, Personal development.

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