At this very moment, my cat is slowly going insane.
And so are you.
Allow me to explain…
A couple months back, we rescued a young blind cat. Yay for us, right? Doing our small part to mock the circle of life and turn nature inside out. Al Gore would be proud.
What we didn’t anticipate was that this cat was pregnant and would soon give birth to a litter of kittens. Turns out we signed up for more than we bargained for.
Unfortunately, this brand-new mamma cat didn’t know how to take care of all her baby cats and so they all died. Except for one. The runt of the litter. Of course.
And to make things even more cliché, the sole survivor was a white kitten with blue eyes and it was so cute and just absolutely perfect. I wanted to barf. I thought creatures like that only existed in Disney movies.
But for one reason or another (definitely NOT the blue eyes) we decided to keep it and name him “Beau”. Adorable, right?
Fast forward a couple of months.
Beau is an indoor cat and has never set a foot outside in his entire life. But he’s also very adventurous. And (wait for it), curious. He’s constantly trying to escape out the front door and into the great unknown.
Every time someone opens a door, there are yells of “cat!” and several young children dog-pile (cat-pile?) on Beau to stop him from escaping with only inches to spare.
And it’s getting kind of annoying. Too much effort is being invested on keeping an animal inside. Animals aren’t supposed to be inside anyways. Houses are for people, right? Not cats. So yesterday an executive decision was made.
From now on, Beau will be an outside cat. We’ll grant him his deepest wish, set him free, and never let him back inside again.
And now Beau hates our guts.
We set him free yesterday morning, and of course he instantly dashed away and ran around the corner and disappeared. Having the time of his life, no doubt. He was finally outside! He had achieved his most important (and probably only) goal. He was free.
Several hours later, he showed up in the front yard again. Meowing loudly. Clawing at the front door. Begging to come back inside. But the decision had already been made. Beau was no longer permitted to come in the house. Not under any circumstances.
But I guess Beau didn’t receive the memo.
He clawed at our door and cried his little lungs out for several hours straight. When that didn’t amount to anything, he started jumping up on window sills and clawing through our screens to get inside. We seriously went through several hundred dollars of window screens in under an hour. All because of this one stupid, annoying, psychotic cat.
But it got me thinking. Maybe I shouldn’t be so annoyed. Because I do the same exact thing every day.
I’ll set a goal. I’ll want this thing more than anything else. And I’ll work my butt off to get this thing, whatever it is. And eventually…I’ll get it. I’ll achieve my goal. I’ll have what I want.
For a little while.
And then I don’t want that thing so much anymore. It doesn’t seem as important as it did when I didn’t have it. It just…meh. Boring. Old. Useless.
And so I’ll set my sights on a new goal. This NEXT “thing” will be awesome. It’ll totally make me happier than anything else ever could. I NEED this thing.
And eventually I’ll get that thing but it doesn’t make me any happier. And so I move onto the next thing. And the next. And the next.
It’s so dumb. I’ll romanticize something in my mind, but when I get that “something” I won’t be happy with it. The grass is always greener, right? And I do this with everything. Physical possessions. Financial goals. Relationships. Everything.
And this is confusing to me.
Because on the one hand, it makes me think that maybe I should just stop trying to pursue all of these different things if they won’t make me happier. Maybe I should just learn to be happy with what I have. Maybe I already have everything I need to be happy. Maybe I don’t need anything else. Maybe I should convince myself that the grass is NEVER greener on the other side. That I should just enjoy what I already have.
See Also: 10 Things You Should Know About Creating Your Happiness
But also, on the other hand, maybe thinking that way is super dangerous. Because as a species, we’re hardwired to be progressive. It’s why we are where we are today. Because we’re never content with what we have. If we didn’t feel the need to have anything more, we’d still be living like cavemen. I wouldn’t be typing these words on my computer right now.
But on the other, other hand…
For the longest time, this question completely puzzled me. I kept going back and forth.
Should I learn to be happy with what I have, or should I continue to chase the “next thing”?
There are some very serious pros and cons to both options.
Eventually I came to the conclusion that neither option is the “right” one. Instead, I think there’s a middle ground. A balance that’ll leave everyone happy.
I decided to stop setting big goals. I’m not going to hinge my happiness on being successful in the future. Because success only equals temporary happiness anyways. I’ve seen this over and over in my own life. And my cat proves this as well. Success only provides short-term happiness.
But at the same time, it’s important to be successful. It’s important to make progress and improve and achieve new things. That’s what makes me human.
So rather than put all of my attention towards being successful, I’m going to focus on progressing.
I don’t care anymore whether or not I’m successful. It used to be important to me that every single one of my books was a #1 bestseller. And that every relationship I was in was super amazing and everyone loved me. And that I was totally ripped and had a 6-pack and everything.
Those things don’t matter to me anymore.
What DOES matter is that I write every day. And that I compliment everyone I talk to. And that I work out every day.
I don’t hinge my happiness on the end result. Instead, I’m happy when I make a little bit of progress and improve just 1% each day. That way I get the best of both worlds. Because if I’m improving each day, eventually I’ll be successful. But I don’t have to wait until “eventually” to be happy and proud of myself. I can be happy with what I’ve accomplished each and every single day.
To help me implement this theory of “progression over success”, I created a checklist with a couple of small, mini-goals that I try to complete every day. Just simple, small things I can do that’ll take a couple of minutes at most. Things that will help me progress and improve 1% in each area of life. (Mental, emotional, physical, spiritual, financial, and social.)
When I complete these mini-goals, my life is awesome. I feel great. Because I know that I’ve made progress. I’m a slightly better person than I was yesterday.
Maybe I’m not super successful at everything. Maybe I don’t sell quite as many books as I used to when I was working my butt off every day in a desperate race against myself. Maybe I’m not learning nearly as much as when I used to read 500 pages a day. Maybe I’m not as popular among my peers as I used to be when that really mattered to me.
But I’m happy.
I’ve found a balance that works very well for me. And I think in the long-term, I’ll be even more successful than I would be any other way. Because I’m constantly progressing. I’m always getting better and becoming more successful. Slowly but surely.
See Also: 5 Ways to Balance Work and Family Time Even if You’re a Workaholic
Even if I only improve 1% a day…every 3 months my life will have improved nearly 100%.
Funnily enough, I created my first mini-goal checklist almost 3 months ago, exactly. And I can honestly say that I’m 100% happier than I was 100 days ago. My life is so much better. My friends and family have noticed a big change in me, and my overall attitude towards life.
And unlike my cat, I can’t wait to see what the next 3 months bring.