We Are Happy When We Are Progressing

As humans, we thrive when we are making progress. While it’s important to accept who we are and find comfort in silence and moments of monotony, if we stand still for too long we lose our balance. Inactivity can lead to feelings of hopelessness. We lose confidence in ourselves and the future.

There is a lot of emphasis on hustling and goal setting — especially at this time of year. But progress is more than setting goals and achievement. Research proves that when we reach a goal we return to the same level of happiness we were before. And then we set the next goal and the cycle repeats itself. It’s a never-ending pursuit to escape stagnation to ultimately feel fulfilled.

Happiness comes from growth and becoming a little more knowledgeable than we were yesterday. When we stop growing, our mind and body wither away. Like a plant which needs the right balance of water, carbon dioxide and sunshine to grow, we need to feel a sense of progression to thrive.

Allow Yourself to Dream

To make progress in our lives it’s important to create a vision for the future. And that involves allowing ourselves time to play and to let our mind wander. Partaking in activities that we enjoy and using our imagination is essential for human flourishing. For children it comes naturally — they dream of imaginary worlds and anything is possible. Yet as we age and life becomes more serious, we tend to forget this rather natural and beautiful skill. We don’t dare dream for fear of disappointment.

Imagining and making time for play is extremely important for progression. Play fires up the brain. This imagining and fantasising about our future helps us think creatively and spurs us to pursue our dreams. Without imagining and creating a vision we settle for reality. We stagnate and become disgruntled.

The feelings that come from this visualising our future are what inspire and propel us into action. And setting clear and actionable steps can lead us there.

But this “there” is not the final destination and it’s important to keep in mind.

When and if we reach our dream, our ideals and vision may again change. We are always in a state of flux — flowing in and out of our ideal. This continuous visualisation throughout our lives, however, helps us progress and move forward, challenging us and helping us grow stronger than we were. We learn a little more about ourselves. And it’s this recognising how much we have grown that is important for happiness.

Notice How Far You Have Come

Dan Sullivan refers to something called “the gap and the gain”. The gap is our ideal that we always measure ourselves against. It’s having this ideal life and version of ourselves that we keep striving towards, but never quite feel we reach — despite our success. There is always a gap in our life that we try to fill, yet remains empty. Leaving us feeling unfulfilled.

The gain is where we have come from. We need to look at where we have come from to realise and appreciate how much we have grown and progressed in our lives. The more we measure our current-self against our previous-self, the more we realise how far we have progressed, and the greater our sense of fulfilment and satisfaction.

When we focus more on the gain rather than the gap, we gain confidence. We see that we have progressed and grown as a person. That life hasn’t been idle.

Stepping into a New Year

We are about to enter a new year. This time of year brings up many mixed emotions for all of us. It’s not uncommon to question where the year went and feel low for not achieving anything significant. It’s easy to look around at those close to us and compare our lives to theirs.

But we have all grown in some way. Even through struggle.

Sit quietly and gently reflect on this past year. What have you learned about yourself or the world around you? What skill did you master? What change did you make that moved you in a different direction? Who did you help that endured pain? What experience did you have that you enjoyed? What debt did you manage to clear? What did you learn from a difficult experience? How did it help you grow?

Most of us have something in there that helped us progress into the person we are today. This reflection can help us enter a new year feeling more optimistic and happy. The year wasn’t wasted, despite what we initially thought. Sometimes it’s simply changing the outlook that helps us feel more content.

Then allow yourself to dream.

Adopt a growth mindset — where anything is possible. Decide what you hope to achieve in your future and write it down clearly, along with action steps to help you get there. And then commit completely. Create an environment and surround yourself with people that will support you. Step forward with confidence, understanding that with each step you are growing. And pause from time-to-time to reflect and appreciate how far you have come.

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