Last year I was reading about a European billionaire who, after losing a good chunk of his wealth in a bad investment, ended his life. The day he committed suicide, he was still a billionaire, albeit a less well-off one.
Most people would think, This guy was still rich! What was he thinking?
But what most people don’t understand is that happiness is not about what you have (or own) or even wherever it is you stand right now. It’s about where you feel you’re headed, about whether or not the future is looking brighter.
Contrast the billionaire with a long-time job seeker who finally lands a position (which certainly doesn’t match billionairedom). What emotions would come up then?
Progress! Happiness! Joy!
Put simply, happiness is progress. Or as happiness researcher Shawn Achor explains: “Happiness is the joy you feel moving toward your potential.”
If you feel like you “should” be happier (because, hey, you already express gratitude for what’s going right in your life, right?), here’s what you can do:
1. Set yourself up for success.
When I was a recruiter, the No. 1 thing candidates wanted (even more than a salary bump) was a workplace where they could get better. They wanted to work for a good mentor, have a clear career acceleration path, and be an environment that promoted advancement.
Does your career make you feel like you are getting smarter, faster, and better year after year? Or have you been on a loooong plateau the last couple of years (or more)? If it’s the latter, no wonder you’re not excited or energized. Feeling stifled, stuck, or bored means we’re not making use of our potential. And we’re here on Earth for the purpose of expansion. Not stagnation.
Luckily there are plenty of ways to get out of this rut. Is there a new project you can volunteer to help out with? Or another position you’ve been gunning for at work? What about exploring a side hustle, or even looking at job openings at other companies?
2. Trend upward (everywhere)!
It isn’t just our work that gives us fulfillment. Beyond our professional/creative contributions, there are other ways we can always be growing too. And it can be fun.
My sister took up tennis two years ago, and she and her husband always make sure there’s a court nearby when they take vacations. They also play together every Saturday morning. The fact they are improving at something gives them a feeling of great satisfaction.
Where can you be growing? Could it be picking up piano, finessing your French, mastering improv classes, sassing it up at salsa classes, or getting a stronger core? Whatever it is, if you can measure your level of accomplishment month over month, it’s tremendously gratifying.
3. Always be thinking: What’s next?
When you think about spring, summer, 2017, and beyond, are you excited? What do you visualize? Is it constantly getting better—more exploration, increased adventure, career success, ticking off bucket list items—with exciting plans and opportunities on the horizon?
Whether or not every single thing comes true, they matter in the present moment. Because there’s joy in anticipation too. According to a 2010 study published in the journal Applied Research in Quality of Life, just thinking about and planning a vacation can make you happier than actually taking it.
I used to daydream about my next holiday (and plan it) whenever I was unhappy at work. Having experiences to look forward to makes a massive difference in our day-to-day happiness levels. Especially when Monday happens. And it’s raining.
Turns out a billion dollars might not even be enough if you’re not happy about where you’re headed. But a shake-up and a little strategizing just might be.
Susie Moore is Greatist’s life coach columnist and a confidence coach in New York City. Sign up for free weekly wellness tips on her website and check back every Tuesday for her latest No Regrets column!