When you consider the contradicting viewpoints within cynical optimism, the common advice “be happy with what you have” sparks a thoughtful battle.
“Being happy with what you have” simply promotes appreciation. Instead of wanting more, you focus on the gifts that are already present in your life.
The idea is noble, but the practice is undefined. If “be happy with what you have” is the last thing that anyone wants to hear when she is distraught, there is a discrepancy between the philosophy and its beneficial manifestation in everyday life.
If you’re not even remotely happy with what you have, are these empty words?
Rather than dismiss this phrase as lofty or nonsensical, I want to examine its flaws to help you extract and use its valuable message.
There are two main issues that prevent the proper implementation of this advice.
Issue 1: The Have/Don’t-Have Framework
If your outlook rests upon “having,” you can’t ignore “not having.” One depends upon the other.
Here’s an example that I often say: don’t think about pink elephants.
What’s the first thing that comes to mind? You think of pink elephants.
As much as you try to appreciate what you have, you ultimately get tripped up thinking about what you lack if you frame your attitude around possession.
When you set a preference that what you have is “good,” it’s just as dangerous as wishing for more.
“Having” something is a faulty premise because it ignores the fleeting aspects of life.
What if you’re happy with something that you have today, but then lose that possession or relationship tomorrow?
It leaves you feeling helpless: well, I was happy with what I had, but then I lost it. What am I supposed to do now?
Solution 1: The Beauty of Lacking
If you accept that you’re not just going to forget about what you don’t have, you must re-frame it.
Put what you don’t have in your gratitude sphere. You don’t know what it would look like if you did have that something, so you can’t confidently say that it is the answer to your problems.
There’s something else for you. Make the mystery fun.
And when you do lose something that you once had, you know that you appreciated it fully during the time that you were meant to have it.
When I write about getting over heartbreak, I don’t deny the pain associated with romantic heartbreak, but I do argue that heartbreak is too vague of a concept to treat. You need to pinpoint the specific emotions that you experience if you want to feel better.
Revising your attitude about what you’re supposedly lacking forms an appreciation for all aspects of being alive.
Issue 2: The Capacity to Improve
Does “being happy with what you have” directly contradict the makings of a Revision Fairy?
How can necessary and developmental changes happen if everything stays the same because you’re content with what you already have?
When you’re not happy with what you have, an obligation to feel happy anyway compounds the issue.
If you recognize that something isn’t right in your life, that recognition is significant. Without it, you can’t evaluate and improve your behavior and priorities.
That recognition will never surface if you falsely cling to accepting current circumstances as the way things are and the way they will always be.
Solution 2: The Power of Choice
Happiness is a collection of manageable steps.
A step isn’t necessarily instant gratification. Short-term happiness rapidly deflates if it has a flimsy foundation.
Each choice that builds long-term happiness makes happiness easier. It doesn’t satisfy just to get a quick benefit. The choice may often seem not beneficial at all because it involves sacrifice.
But when you chose to tell the truth instead of lie, when you chose to take a risk even though it scares you, when you chose to recognize a negative habit, when you chose to overcome a negative habit—you build strong layers of your identity.
The habit of making decisions that are right for you adds layers of happiness.
Over time, you don’t have to pretend to be happy with what you have. You just are.
Unsustainable fixes and detrimental routines add layers to our identities that makes us susceptible to more uneasiness and confusion.
Ultimately, “being happy with what you have” is a lesson in confidence and trusting your instincts.
You learn to respond to situations in ways that satisfy who you are.
That’s something to be happy about.
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