Most would agree that pursuing one’s goals and dreams is a good idea. Most would also agree that being grateful for what we have and not getting caught up in “the grass is always greener . . .” trap is important as well. These ideas may appear to be incompatible, but do they need to be? Is it possible to be content with where we are in life yet want to go further at the same time?
We like to remodel our homes, get promotions, get in better physical shape, improve our relationships. The risk of over-pursuing such goals is that we may be perpetually unsatisfied, always chasing the next best thing. It’s easy to get our sights so fixed on the opportunities ahead of us that we fail to appreciate and enjoy life in the moment.
Some fear that to ease up on the die-hard competitive drive is to slip into complacency and mediocrity. We may feel that winning, succeeding, accomplishing, earning and acquiring are the only ways to secure a happy and meaningful life and to back off on these pursuits is to surrender and fail in life.
How much is enough?
So how do we accept what is, yet pursue growth at the same time? Maybe part of the answer lies in how we define our basic needs. What comes to mind when we think of our basic needs for food, clothing shelter and social contact? Some are so deprived of these essentials that their lives are truly at risk. Others may have a bare minimum and be quite content in life knowing that they have what they need to get by. Yet others may have an overwhelming abundance in these areas but still feel insecure, incomplete and unhappy.
For those in this last group, perhaps the challenge is to lower the bar of what we regard to be essential in order to have a fulfilled life. This would mean taking some items out of the “got to have” category and placing them in the “would be nice” category. We get to decide what we consider to be the meat and potatoes of life, and what is the gravy.
Keep calm and carry on
Lowering the bar in this way does not mean giving up or accepting the status quo. One could pursue the same goals with a great deal of focus and energy, but with a different motivation and intention. “I need to be successful at this in order to feel good about myself” is very different from “I’m okay the way I am but I’m passionate about this and really want to succeed.” Being content with how far we’ve gotten does not have to stunt our growth—it can even enhance it.
So do we count our blessings, or chase our dreams? Maybe the answer is to do both, but with a balanced perspective. Striving to improve one’s lot in life out of a sense of desperation, fear and inadequacy is a stressful way to go. Working hard towards the same goals from a place of gratitude and acceptance is likely to be a more pleasant experience for us and those around us.
Art Frenz, Ph.D.
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