“If Only I Had This Thing, I Would Be Happy”

Something has captured your imagination or your heart. Maybe it’s an expensive physical item, like a tablet computer or a shiny car. Maybe it’s something like a relationship with another person, either real or visualized.

You get wrapped up in this thing that you want. You keep visualizing yourself with this thing in your life and you begin to truly believe that your life will be better when you have this thing, whatever it might be. You begin to see things missing in your current life and buy into the idea that only this thing you’re dreaming of can fill those holes.

This is one of the most painful psychological traps that a person can push themselves into. It costs you time and money and it often leads to heartache.

For starters, it devalues your appreciation of the things you have in your life right now. Almost all of us have lives that already contain many sources of joy. When we overlook them and only look at what’s missing, we lose out.

It also places far too much expectation on a single life change, something that virtually no change could possibly live up to. If you truly believe that one change can transform your life from steady unhappiness to steady happiness, then this change is going to disappoint you. That new computer isn’t going to change your life. Neither does that romance that you imagine. These things won’t transform your life.

Instead, you need to try a different two-pronged approach.

First, look at your life for the things that bring joy that are already there. All of us have things that we value that bring us joy: friends, favorite movies, music that moves us deeply, a favorite pet, the feel of a flannel sheet. Rather than looking at the things that are missing, look at the things that are already there.

Whenever I struggle with this, I find that maintaining a gratitude journal really helps. At the end of each day, write down five things that you’re grateful for in your life. I find that after a week or so of doing that, I begin to see what’s there rather than what’s missing.

Second, look for multitudes of ways to fill the holes. It’s easy to get hung up on one specific thing filling a hole in your life, but there are often many ways to fill those holes.

A desire for relationships can often be sated by changing one’s social circle (I speak from experience here – moving away from someone you desire really helps) or changing one’s social calendar. A desire for a specific tech item can often be sated by an alternate choice or an opportunity to actually use the item (when you realize that it won’t solve all your problems). A desire for books can often be sated at the library.

When you’ve identified something you want, don’t get stuck on one specific way to get there. Step back and look for alternate ways to get there, ones that don’t involve spending lots of money, time, and energy needlessly.

Of course, there may be deeper issues at stake here. If you find that tactics like the ones above do not help you to move your focus away from a “miracle fix,” you may want to discuss the issue with your doctor. Sometimes, there are medical issues at work that can affect one’s thinking; in other cases, people just need someone to talk to in a confidential way.

There is no one thing that will make your life better… but that’s okay, because your life is likely pretty good anyway.

Trent Hamm
Trent Hamm
Founder of The Simple Dollar

Trent Hamm founded The Simple Dollar in 2006 after developing innovative financial strategies to get out of debt. Since then, he’s written three books (published by Simon & Schuster and Financial Times Press), contributed to Business Insider, US News & World Report, Yahoo Finance, and Lifehacker, and been featured in The New York Times, TIME, Forbes, The Guardian, and elsewhere.

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