By Tracey Cleantis, author of The Next Happy
Spring is in the air, but it isn’t too late to reevaluate whether your New Years’ dreams, goals and vision board are giving you what you hoped for this year, or making it into a super-sized nightmare. While the self-help section of your bookshelf may be screaming, “You can do anything!!,” a little dose of reality may help you to decide if it is time to dump the dream, revamp your vision, and find some happiness in the here and now.
Is my happiness on layaway?
We all have done it at some point: decided to place our happiness on hold. And, yes, delayed gratification is a good skill to have. There was once even a famous experiment done with little kids which proved that not eating the marshmallow you have now in exchange for the promise of more marshmallows later is a good predictor of future success. However, we aren’t talking mere marshmallows; this is your life. If you aren’t letting any happiness in now because you feel sure that the achievement of your dream will make you wildly happy, then your life is on layaway and that is in intolerable interest rate with no guarantee of marshmallow returns.
Do I believe the only way that I can be happy is if I have this goal?
Sometimes we get so gung-ho on a dream that we believe our happiness depends on it. We think, If I don’t get that guy, that job or that achievement then it is totally impossible that I could ever be happy. This is simply not true. The happiness studies show us that we have a happiness “set point” (Brickman and Campbell) and that even if we won the lottery or suffered paralysis, in time we would return to the previous level of happiness that we had prior to such a life- changing event. What this tells us is that happiness is possible without achievement of that goal.
Am I sticking with this dream because I have already invested so much in it that I can’t quit now?
If the ONLY reason you are sticking with a goal is because you feel like you have already invested so much time, energy and money in it that to give up now would be imprudent, think again. Can you imagine Allen Greenspan or Ben Bernanke co-signing on that kind of investment? Don’t throw more energy, time and money into what isn’t working and what isn’t giving you some happiness in the now. What good investment in your now can you make that will give you a better rate of return?
What friends? What family? What significant other?
Pursuing goals is great, but it can lead to a life imbalance. If we are so single-mindedly trying to get the raise, the promotion, or whatever it is that we are after, then there may not be time for dates, drinks, and dinner with people who matter to us. It is important to see if our goals, visions and dreams are costing us time with people we love and leaving us lonely.
Has my self-concept gone catawampus?
If our goals aren’t being achieved and we, despite our best efforts, are not able to make that vision a reality, we can start to judge ourselves harshly. We can feel guilt, shame and a whole lot of self-doubt. If we dare to disengage from the dream, we might start name-calling and throwing around words like “lazy”, “loser” and “quitter.” If your dream is bringing out your inner tyrant and name-calling has become the norm, it might be time to call a total time-out on your goals.
Is the pursuit of the dream making me blue?
Being so focused on a goal that we have not yet achieved can cause anxiety, depression, despair, and other mental health issues. Sometimes when people aren’t able to achieve a goal they turn to shopping, sex, food, and substances as a way to numb the disappointment. If your mental health is being impacted by the pursuit of a goal it is time to get some help from a therapist, psychiatrist or clergy.
People will think I am a quitter
Oh honey, the real truth is, people are way too busy thinking about themselves to notice. And by the way, if we stopped to take a poll, I promise that everyone alive has quit something. Quitting is part of life. We try something, we see if we like it, and we move on. We do not have to stick with something forever to be a good person. You are a good person with or without the dream.
The takeaway? Just because you had a goal doesn’t mean you have to stick with it forever. If a goal is no longer making you happy and is instead hurting your health, well-being, sense of self and relationships, then it is time to let it go and make some room for happiness in your now.
About the Author
Tracey Cleantis, LMFT, is a speaker, writer and a practicing psychotherapist. She is the “Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams” and is a personal and professional authority on how to let go of what isn’t working and to grieve, move on, and get to the to the other side where happiness is waiting for you.
Her blog was named one of the top ten blogs for Francophiles by Blogs.com and is rated one of the top 10 psychology and memoir blogs. In addition, Tracey has written “Freudian Sip,” a column atPsychology Today, and contributes to the Huffington Post. She has been featured on Fox News and in Redbook, Yahoo News and Salon.com. Her writing on finding happiness after infertility was featured in Jamie Cat Callan’s Bonjour, Happiness! (Citadel Press, 2011).
Tracey is a passionate writer who combines wit, wisdom, humor, theory made accessible, and a whole lot of heart. She speaks on grief, infertility, letting go of dreams, finding unexpected happiness after loss.