Planning to be Happy

So often in our lives we are struck with the desire to know what is going to happen. The craving comes from somewhere inside, from the place that likes to plan for tomorrow, plan for next week, next year and so on.

The desire to plan hasn’t always been a part of human existence. Prior to the agricultural revolution, we foraged and hunted for our food, never really knowing where our next meal would come from. This encouraged a sense of transiency, moving from one location to another, responding to the elements of nature. In this way we were more connected with other beings of the animal kingdom, nearly all of whom still don’t set “plans” for their future. Humans of that time, and animals of now, simply stayed in tune with the present set of circumstances and acted in alignment when needs arose.

Then came the agricultural revolution- a time in human history that transformed how we organized and planned. During this time we figured out how to stay in one place and work with the land to grow our food. The need for transiency drastically reduced. People wanted to stay in one place. People decided that “owning land” was a priority. Along with this came the distinction of the have and have-nots. Community changed, and an opportunity opened up for those who wanted social power and control.

We started planning more and more. By understanding the cycle of the moon, and the cycle of the seasons, we could plant crops and plan to eat them months later. We could plan to store food during winter to feed our families. A more primitive planning process arose along with an important transition in human history.

The world saw humankind move from a more tribal culture to a world of states and civilizations, organized religions, bureaucracies and institutions. Time became more linear, individuals identified separately from the whole. This created a desire for stability, order and predictability— a desire and attachment to the planning process. We became reliant on our ability to plan the future.

Fast forward 2,000 years and we are still benefiting from the creation of process and planning. Many technological advances are the result of a vision for the future and a plan to get there.

We have gained so much from the ability to plan the future, but what have we lost?

We have weakened our ability to exist in the present moment- to see and feel things as they are, not as we planned them to be. This oversight can lead to cognitive dissonance in the form of depression, addiction, anxiety and self-destructive behavior. Personally, I’ve experienced this when I sought out and accepted a job that I planned would bring me happiness. It was quite the opposite in reality, but I held onto my preconceived notion for over a year. I kept telling myself it would get better, that I still wanted this job, that it would still make me happy. The longer I held on, the further happiness moved away from me until I started suffering from anxiety and depression. I couldn’t figure out how to get better until I realized I wasn’t being present with my reality.

Instead of addressing what I actually felt about the job, I was holding onto what I had planned to feel about it. Once I realized this, and embraced it, I was able to release my attachment to the “plan”. Once I released the plan, it was easy to let go, quit the job and move on.

The disservice we do to ourselves comes from our attachment to plans. Planning can be fun—a new vacation, a holiday celebration, a new experience—yet once we attach our happiness to the future plan; we are not fully present with experiences life brings our way.

How can we practice non-attachment? Anytime you feel anxious, depressed or angry. Ask yourself—where am I placing the power for happiness? If the answer is anywhere other than the present moment, simply recognize the response and remember—“The only time I can make myself happy is in the present moment. The only time I can plan to be happy is right now.”

xoxo Kate

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