I think all of us secretly have an image in our head of what our ideal life looks like.
For some of us, it might be living in the suburbs with a small family and a high income job. For others, it might be a life of nonstop international travel and adventure. Or perhaps it’s living in a lake house year round.
Where do we get these ideas of what a perfect life looks like?
I believe it’s a combination of being told what will make us happy and simply observing what seems to make people happy. Many of us are told from a young age that a nice house, a nice car, and a college education are the components of a good life. As we grow up we see advertisements of happy people driving sports cars, we read articles about happy people living in exotic locations, and we see photos of happy people traveling around the world full time.
Piece by piece, each of us secretly puts together a life that we think looks great and will surely make us happy. We might read an article about a couple who quit their jobs to travel the world and think yes, that is what I need to do. We might see gorgeous photos of sunsets at some coastal city and make it our goal to move to that city. Or we might see a breathtaking house on HGTV and think if I could just have a house like that then I would be happy. Or we might see pictures of a $50,000 wedding ceremony on Pinterest and think wow, that would really make my life worthwhile.
We all create this imaginary checklist of what we think we need to cultivate a good life. Then we slowly work towards checking off everything on the list. Corporate job? Check. New house? Check. Coastal city? Check. German Shephard? Check.
And when we wake up one day with all of our boxes checked and are still missing the feeling of overflowing joy and fulfillment, we conclude that we must be missing an item on the list. Oh that’s right, the German sports car. That’s what I must be missing.
I think we’re approaching all of this in the wrong way. I think conjuring up an image of what the perfect life looks like and attempting to create that life is a horrible strategy for actually finding happiness and fulfillment.
I have read countless articles about people who have decided to travel full time and actually hated it. I have read many accounts of people who moved to a new city because they were told it would make them a happier, more social person and ended up hating how lonely they were and how different things were compared to their hometown.
I don’t think traveling or moving across the country are bad decisions, but I think the motives behind them are misguided. Most of us seem to think if we can live in this city, do these things, own this stuff, surely we will be happy because it appears that the people doing all those things are happy.
The problem with this approach is that it’s completely centered around pursuing a life that looks good, without considering if it will feel good. We can picture what life would be like living in a certain place with certain stuff, but it’s difficult to picture what that life would feel like.
But there is a surefire way to cultivate a life that does give us a fulfilling, meaningful existence we all crave. It’s through focusing entirely on how our life feels.
On a day to day basis, what brings you real joy, fulfillment, and happiness? It might be some project you’re working on in your free time, or hanging out with your kids, your spouse, or friends. Maybe it’s tinkering around in the garage building stuff. Maybe it’s cooking. Maybe it’s writing or creating music. Maybe it’s teaching other people skills or volunteering.
You know exactly what types of activities bring you joy. You know exactly who and what makes your life meaningful. And here’s the most curious part of all…most of what makes life worth living is completely independent of where you live, the house you own, the car you drive, and the job you have.
Do you see the disconnect here? What makes life awesome are the people and activities that makes us feel good. And yet, most of us are attempting to create a life that looks good. We’re spending all our time, energy, and money trying to piece together a life we think looks good on paper while ignoring how it actually makes us feel.
I think many of us are at risk of chasing this imaginary dream life only to wake up one day and wonder….I have the house. I have the car. I live in the city I thought looked amazing in the magazine. I have the envious job title. And yet……I’m not fulfilled. What’s happening? From the outside, everything looks so good. It looks like I “made it”. My friends are envious of my life. But why do I not feel fulfilled?
It’s because all the stuff in life that actually makes you happy – having connections with other people, creating meaningful work to put out in the world, developing relationships – can be done anywhere, regardless of how your life looks!
We need to zero in on exactly what makes us feel alive and then create a life around that. Not the other way around. How many people do you know that have a huge house, nice car, golf club membership, impressive shoe collection, and then try to squeeze in life around the edges? That’s no way to live.
What makes life so great for you? What type of work, what type of people make life feel vibrant? Focus on doing that work and spending time with those people. Everything else is fluff. The place you live, the car you drive, the house you own, the clubs you’re in, the technology you own, it’s all just stuff fluff around the edges!
If you fill up the core of your life with what makes you feel great, everything else takes care of itself. You drop the desire to make your life look great. You drive a car that gets you to and from work, a house that suits your needs, clothes that are comfortable. You lose the desire to buy designer goods and spend the weekends at shopping malls in an endless search of the next shirt, dress, or shoes that surely will fill the pocket of unhappiness in your life.
Sure it’s possible to live in your dream city, your dream house, in your dream neighborhood, and be happy. But the reason you’re happy isn’t because of the city, the house, or the neighborhood, it’s because you are doing the things that make you feel fulfilled on a daily basis. You can create an million dollar looking life, but if it’s missing all the things that make you feel like a million bucks, it’s all for nothing.
We all have an idea of what a perfect life looks like, but do we know what it feels like?
Pursuing a life that looks good on paper may or may not bring us happiness. In many cases it won’t. But pursuing a life centered around doing things you love with plenty of time to spend with people you love – that’s essentially a guarantee to lead to a life of fulfillment. Whether it looks good or not doesn’t matter.
When life feels good, who cares what it looks like?
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