The Key To Immediate Happiness

You may have seen it on a doormat or a Nike ad. "Being present" is now a common ideal. Here's what it means for you.
Innovation Evangelist, 24/7 Innovation
September 01, 2011

Imagine the following scenario. You are single and live just outside of New York City. Your employer wants you to work in London for a few years. You are excited about the prospect of living overseas and are interested in the job. Assuming that the costs of living for New Jersey and London are roughly equivalent, which option would you choose?

Option 1

You stay an employee of the NYC office and are “on loan” to London. You continue to pay your mortgage/rent in New Jersey, but can rent/sublet your place to someone during your absence. The company pays all of your expenses in London: housing, food and travel to and from the U.S. They cover the difference in taxes between the US and UK. Basically you have no expenses for the three years you are there, affording you the chance to sock away 100 percent of your salary. Your stay is temporary. After your time overseas, you will return to the U.S.

Option 2

You transfer from the NYC office and become an employee of the London office. You are paid in British pounds just like all other British employees and you pay U.K. taxes—which are higher. Although you sell your house in New Jersey and have no expenses in the U.S., you need to cover all of your expenses in London. There is no guarantee of a job in the NYC office should you decide to return to the states.

Financially, option No. 1 is a significantly better deal. But when faced with this situation in real life, I chose option No. 2.

Why?

While I recognize that finances are important, I place a higher value on my happiness. And the best way to effectively leverage that happiness is to live life fully immersed in the present.

What does that have to do with my choosing scenario No. 2?

I have found that when we engage in a temporary or transitory activity, the mindset is different than when we are settled into a seemingly more permanent option. Temporary situations can create a “holding pattern” where we wait for a “better” option down the road. Temporary employment is not your real job. Temporary housing is not your real home. These give the illusion of “here today, gone tomorrow.” Why take it seriously? Why invest your heart and soul into activities when you will eventually be leaving. Living in the moment can be difficult when you are waiting for your “real” life to begin.

Although from a financial perspective, the permanent option may not have been a great decision, it was the right one for me. I had the most spectacular three years of my life. London felt like my home. I lived there like a native. I acted as though there was no return to the U.S. This forced me to be present to what I was doing and to take full advantage of England.

I am not sure that I would have had the mental conviction to live in that same manner had I chosen the temporary solution. I may never have felt settled. The thought of leaving might have lingered in the back of my mind, negatively impacting my experience.

Instead, I formed new social circles. I dated. I lived as though I would be there forever. London became my home. A little more than three years later, I was back in the U.S., without a traditional job and salary (this is when I launched my own business).

“Permanent” situations tend to give the illusion of future stability, even though that is an illusion.

Where are you living like you are in a temporary situation?

Have you ever been in a job that you didn’t like? Did you daydream continuously about leaving, yet three years later you are still in the same job? How might your perspective change if you thought this were a permanent option? Perhaps instead of dreaming about the future, you would be present to what you can do today in your job. Look for new opportunities internally. Do the best job you can. Find ways of adding more value. If you are focused on leaving, seeing this job as a temporary option, you will be miserable. And the odds are, you will lose your job because of poor performance. That’s when you will begin to daydream about how great your job used to be.

We see this phenomenon in relationships as well. While there are many reasons why people marry, there is a psychological shift that many undergo upon saying those two little words: “I do.” It creates a more predictable and stable life with a clearly defined future. And many marry for that reason—for the perceived stability they gain. To love, honor and cherish till death do us part. It gives us the appearance of certainty. But of course, that too is an illusion.

How often do you live with uncertainty? How much of that uncertainty is created by you in your mind? How much does this uncertainty ruin your present moment experiences?

Being present, without worrying about the future, is not easy. Could I have chosen option No. 1 and treated London like my home? Quite possibly. If I knew I was leaving, I might have been hungrier to experience everything England had to offer in the brief time I knew I would be there. However, to get me settled into the proper mindset, it was better for me to take what seemed like a permanent option, even though it was just as temporary.

To be clear, the temporary option is not necessarily a bad one. In actuality, I prefer to rent knowing that I can move more easily. I value flexibility over stability in that situation. And for some, entering into marriage can lead to complacency and the eventual demise of the relationship. But marriage does not need to be the beginning of the end. If you truly operate from the perspective that “this is it” and you want to make the most of your life and marriage, the (seemingly) permanent option can be wonderful.

It’s all in the mindset.

The reality is, everything is temporary. But what if living with this transient mentality diminishes your happiness now? Where in life are you living the “temporary option?” Where are you waiting for a better option to come along? Where is this not serving you well? Maybe it is time to choose the “permanent option” so that you are living fully in each moment.

Maybe this is the key to immediate happiness.