At a meeting the other day, a very astute colleague made an off-hand comment about how she sometimes still feels like she’s waiting for something, for life to start.
I know what she’s talking about. It’s Adulthood.
When we’re kids, we have this perception of adulthood as a powerful “other” that, once reached, will let us in on the secret: “Oh,” we’ll muse, “so this is what life is all about.”
I’m almost 40, and I still find myself looking around and wondering at the mature, all-knowing adult-ness that those around me seem to possess. I more often feel like a kid who’s “playing” grown-up.
I guess that’s the secret in the end. The indefinable adulthood that seemed so awesomely mysterious and different actually turns out to be just you, an older body, a larger collection of experiences and memories; a few more perks and a few more drawbacks.
Many of us think of happiness in the same elusive way we think of the “big-adult-secret”. We think: “when I’m ____________, then I’ll be happy.” Shawn Achor, psychologist and CEO of Good Think, Inc., discusses that very idea in a great TED talk and accompanying article in the Harvard Business Review (January/February 2012).
He points out that while we might imagine happiness as something to achieve in some distant future – once certain conditions are just right – it just doesn’t work that way. If we keep waiting for something outside ourselves to dictate our happiness, we’ll never actually be happy. Instead, we must cultivate happiness in what’s right in front of us, each day. Happiness, he claims, is a mindset that we can choose.
I was thinking about these ideas of “adulthood” and “happiness” as I went into a workshop on Goal Setting that I facilitated for a group of teachers last week. I started by asking the group what they wanted to be when they grew up. Answers ranged from nurse to actress and everything in between. In the middle of the workshop I had them set goals for themselves. Their goals ranged from losing weight to getting a promotion. I ended the workshop by asking participants: “When you find yourself at the end of your life, what is it that you hope to have become? What do you hope is said about you?”
No one cared anymore about their weight or their promotion, or if they ever got to be a famous actress.
When we whittle life down to its core, we realize that there is no great “reveal” waiting for us just ‘round the bend, and that the things we often obsess about, worry about, wonder about, just don’t matter in the end.
So, adulthood? This is it, my friend. Happiness? It’s around you—just look.
Where can you find happiness?