From Dream to Reality: How to Build the Life You Really Want
Do you have a dream? Is there something you’d like to do or become that would make your life feel even better than it already is? Do you consider yourself worthy of achieving it?
As a psychiatrist committed to helping people achieve true happiness, it’s not enough that I simply encourage you to follow your dreams … what’s important to me is to help you create dreams that are worthy of you and to remember that when you do that, you deserve to and are capable of achieving your dream. The human mind is plagued with feelings of deficit, which seems to present obstacles to making your dreams come true. For example, you may find yourself thinking:
- I’m not talented enough to achieve …
- I’m not attractive enough that someone would …
- I’m not smart enough to become …
Here’s an important insight that brings mental and emotional well-being: Pushing yourself to find self-worth from external achievements will not work. Having and doing things won’t make you complete or worthy.
Think of this simple equation: N (the current moment) + 1 (the next best thing) = Continuing Frustration. This is not the path to fulfillment, nor will it create a satisfying life. If your dreams are of things and achievements, based on acquisitions and accomplishments rather than experiences, then you are walking a path that can only lead to dissatisfaction.
I urge you to focus on being aware of what’s behind your dreams. Yes, the drive for the next best thing (whether it is a job or a car or a lover) can be expressed as the ambition that fuels artistic expression and professional accomplishment … but, to the unaware mind, it also brings greed, envy and suffering.
In our pre-aware quest for fulfillment, we set out on life’s journey. We learn what we are supposed to want from our family, our religion, our schools, our friends and the media that saturate our lives. All of this tells us in great detail about our “needs” and the do’s and don’ts of pursuing them. A quest for happiness begins, but the “happily ever after” never arrives.
Happiness doesn’t lie in how much we own, who we love or what we achieve. Rather happiness lies in robust mental health. It means reaching within ourselves to understand what we feel and finding a way to express it. Happiness lies at the end of a process in which we learn to see, feel, speak, accept and let go of life’s experiences.
A growing body of psychological research demonstrates that a happy life is built upon a series of good experiences that make memories you will be able to revisit with pleasure as the years go by. Researchers have found that beyond a certain level (which is $70,000/year), earning more money doesn’t add happiness to your life. Not having enough money to live creates stress and anxiety which can lead to unhappiness – but earning more than you actually need won’t make you happier. Other studies have found that when older people share nostalgic memories, they feel good (that’s why they talk about the good old days so much!) … and that people who spend money on experiences (travel, theater, a lovely meal shared with friends and loved ones) get more pleasure from their investment than those who buy things.
These are thoughts to consider in building your dreams!
Re-visioning Your World
Step 1: Without censoring yourself, make a wish list in your journal – don’t edit, just quickly write down everything that you wish you had in your life. Your list can be as long or as short as you want it to be … I promise you will learn a lot about yourself from creating it.
Step 2: Now think about this list: Which of the things you listed do you need in order to survive? Which things do you want but can live without? Remember, “needs” are basic: Food, clothing, shelter and the means to acquire them. It may be more fun or pleasurable to buy designer clothing, but it’s not a need – it’s a wish.
Step 3: Now look back on your wish list and see if you can adjust some of the wishes to more basic versions of those items. Editing your journal you may substitute some items – for instance, if you have “rib eye steak” on the wish list, you may replace that with “nutritious dinner.”
Step 4: Now spend a few minutes considering what’s different about your revised list that identifies “needs” and “wishes.” Looking at our wants and needs this way trains us to be happier in the present moment instead of always reaching for the next best thing. Remember that you are enough as you are. You are already invaluable, just being you.
Step 5: In order to be truly content in the present moment, allow yourself the gift of gratitude. When you are thankful for all that you already have, your life will feel more enjoyable. So, now take a few minutes to list all the things, tangible and intangible, that you already have: Eyesight, health, coffee, a job, comfortable shoes, a supportive boss, a child, health insurance, air conditioning, music, sunshine, laughter, love … what are some things you feel grateful to have?
Step 6: Ask yourself, are the dreams you want to achieve worthy of you? Will they bring more “gratitude” to your life or more frustration?