“If I knew then what I know now, I would have certainly done things a lot differently!” How often have you heard that? Or let’s be honest, how often have you said it?
I’ve been rereading parts of Stumbling on Happiness by psychologist Daniel Gilbert. He’s reminded me that we often make choices about the future based on what we feel today. Can the present really predict future happiness? Not really, says Gilbert. The future is fuzzy and contains a lot of unknown variables. How can we possibly predict our future happiness based on today’s feelings and experiences?
Upon reading and thinking about Dr. Gilbert’s premise, I thought of numerous examples right way. Below are a few that I’ve heard from students:
- “When I find Prince Charming, I’ll be so happy! And I’ll be even happier when we can get married and have a sweet little home with a white picket fence.” It happens, but soon you learn that the prince has become a couch potato and that the fence needs repainting regularly.
- “When I become a parent, I will be so happy!” Then you do. And while you’re not unhappy, your entire life changes as you often go through your days on sleep deprivation fretting about diaper rash, potty training, possible autism, braces for Johnny, or money for school supplies.
- “If only I could go back to school and get a degree, I’d be happy.” There you are sitting in class reveling in your good fortune to be in college. But then you hear about the umpteen requirements and school policies and begin to wonder what you’ve gotten yourself into. By mid-semester, you’re ready to bail out.
- “If only I were through with college and in the working world, I’d be so happy!” You graduate, land an awesome job, and learn that your boss doesn’t appreciate your abilities. Plus, he actually expects you to be at work on time regardless of a sick child, traffic jam, or oversleeping.
- “I’d be so happy if only I could travel and see more of the world.” Then one day you find yourself in Spain after a six-hour flight across the Atlantic, and despite a tiny bit of jet lag, you’re ready to hit the streets of Madrid. But then you realize your luggage is missing, and no one seems to understand your description of pink flowered bags. Things workout in that department, but then after a few days you begin to tire of old cathedrals and castles and start missing your hometown.
The above represent only a few of the experiences that many people long for in the belief that they will make them happy. When people are wishing and hoping, they don’t always think about how they’ll have to share their money with a spouse or sacrifice free time to take care of children. Their friends get to go shopping and spend their money on lipstick and lunch while they spend theirs on Pampers and pacifiers.
So what should you do to make sure your future plans will make you happy? Gilbert suggests that you talk to the people who’ve been there, done that. That way you can get some good advice. Just a little caveat here. Make sure you talk to the right people, not just to the people who will verify what you want to hear. Plus, there are some people who are dream slayers of the first order. Don’t listen to them either. Grumpy, bitter, and/or complaining, they never offer an encouraging word. Woe is them.
What about you? Do you currently have some plans or dreams that you hope will make you happy? Have you talked with anyone who has achieved or acquired what you want? Or have you already had an experience with thinking that something would make you happy only to find that it indeed did not? In general, just please share some thoughts, observations, or personal experiences.