Do you remember the first time you flew on an airplane? How about the first time you had ice cream? Or went to a fancy restaurant? Chances are, you were wowed.
How about lately? Were you just as thrilled?
Oh, how quickly we grow accustomed to niceties. After a few plane rides, ice cream cones, and restaurants, “special” becomes routine. And if we’re forced back to our previous pre “special” standard, it feels like downright deprivation.
The beauty and curse of humans is that we’re always striving for better. But one of the secrets to daily happiness is to master the duality of gratitude for what you have while striving for better at the same time.
Here are three ways to avoid letting the quest for the best keep you from being happy:
1. Focus on people instead of amenities
Last week my husband I flew to the west coast to tour colleges with our youngest daughter. I travel a lot for business, and most of the time I fly in business class. But this time we were in coach, waay back. No drink or sparkling water before takeoff, a long line to get on the plane, no one takes your coat, no food, the drink cart ran out of wine before it got to me, no solicitous flight attendant. I was actually feeling somewhat put upon.
I’m sitting on a jet taking me from one coast to the other, in under 4 hours. I have air-conditioning, heat, oxygen, free Fresca, even WiFi, and I am with my family! Yet because I was comparing it to my relatively recent new normal of first class, I felt deprived.
One side of my brain was whining about my accommodations. Yet the other, higher-minded side of my brain was screaming, “Save me before I become Donald Trump!”
Needing a gratitude reset at 50,000 feet, I decided to pay full attention to my daughter and discuss colleges. By focusing on the person I loved beside me, the tight quarters and lack of amenities became insignificant.
2. Stay fully present
Striving for better creates restlessness; you’re always looking ahead. Yet social research shows that you’ll be happier if you stay present in the moment, appreciating what’s in front of you.
Dogs don’t have this problem. My dad’s dog is just delighted with the same stupid rubber ball every day. Every morning, he jumps up and down, thrilled beyond belief that my dad is about to throw the ball.
Humans are another story. We might love the ball at first, but after two weeks, we’ll start complaining about how worn out it is.
The secret to staying happy is to love the ball you have while you’re playing with it. Then later, if you decide you want a better ball, make strategic plans to get one. Just don’t let the absence of a better ball keep you from enjoying an afternoon with a worn out one.
3. Don’t compare, laugh instead
Things happen, your ball wears out, you get stuck in steerage, your ice cream melts. You always have a choice with your response. You can compare your less than perfect situation to the one you would prefer, or you can find something interesting and even funny about where you are.
It’s stunning how much of our happiness is within our own control. You only get this day once, how are you going to experience it?