Why Do We Place Our Happiness in the Future?

Posted on April 3, 2012 by

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Have you ever been asked what you would do if you won the lottery?  Or what you plan on doing when you retire?

Both questions are supposed to help you flush out what makes you happy, or at least what you think would make you happy.  The basic idea being that if you didn’t have to worry about making a living you could focus on doing something that would make you happy.

I have had the same answer to those questions ever since I was a teenager.  If I didn’t have to work anymore I would buy a sailboat and sail around the world with my family.

This dream has consumed my imagination for years and I would often revisit it in my mind when my current life seemed too hard or unbearable.

A couple years ago I read a book that claimed people are really bad at predicting what will make them happy.  That they often imagine some future scenario and that if and when they reach it the reality rarely holds up to their dream.  Basically, their dream lifestyle doesn’t make them happy once they achieve it.

I realized that I was spending a lot of time imagining a lifestyle that I thought would make me incredibly happy yet I hadn’t really flushed out the details.  It was very one-dimensional.  Had I dreamed up a lifestyle that wouldn’t even make me happy?  And why was I working so hard in the present to save for a future like that?

I decided to really flush out the future lifestyle I had imagined.

I made a long list of what I imagined my life would be like if I lived on a boat and traveled around the world with my family.  I didn’t just list the Pros of my dream lifestyle.  I forced myself to consider the Cons as well.

In the Pro list I imagined:

  • spending less time surfing the internet and watching TV
  • reading and writing more
  • playing guitar and singing songs with my family
  • spending more time with my wife and children
  • traveling to distant lands and experiencing different cultures

In the Con list I imagined:

  • seeing my friends and extended family less often
  • spending lots of time maintaining the boat
  • the difficulty of completing chores like grocery shopping and laundry
  • draining our hard-earned savings accounts
  • the challenge of re-entering the job market when we returned

After I made the two lists I had an awesome realization.   I realized that I could have almost everything on the Pro list right now and I didn’t have to introduce anything off the Con list.

There was nothing keeping me from spending less time consuming TV and internet. Nothing was stopping me from reading and writing more or learning how to play guitar.  I already had lots of free time to spend with my wife and daughter.  I have four weeks of vacation a year to visit distant lands and experience different cultures.

After this realization I started systematically altering my present life to look more like my imaginary future life.  It is an ongoing experiment.  I figure I will either introduce more happiness into my present life or realize that my future life wasn’t all I thought it was going to be.  Either way I think I am increasing my chances of being happy both now and in the future.

What does your future life look like?  Are there any aspects of it that you could introduce into your present life right now?  I would love to hear about it in the comments.