I suppose I’ve always been a bit of a dreamer. Some of the earliest internal monologues I can remember revolve around me being convinced I was meant for something, like there would be nothing typical about my life or the way I went about it. I don’t exactly know where these feelings came from, or why I feel them as strongly today as I did then, but I do know that the more I feel connected to those grand designs in daily life, the happier and more fulfilled I am. I’m coming to see that this isn’t an abnormality — this is humanity. The very quality of being human enables you to think in the abstract, to strive for ideals that you can not see or touch. These ideals are what philosophers, artists, and writers all try to translate into the perceptible.
Dreaming is the Default Setting for Humans
Realize it or not, you are wired to dream, and I don’t mean that in the sense of wanting a bigger house or fancier clothes. Those things are fine for what they are, and there’s nothing wrong with wanting to treat yourself to a nice suit or a posh dinner if you have the money. However, these are not ends that can motivate you in the long term, and the pleasure you experience from them is fleeting.
So what are some examples of ideals that really motivate? Here are a few:
- Loyalty to friends, family, significant others
- Concern for your community, be it local, regional, national, or global
- Transcendent feelings or a sense of wonder from mediation, exercise, art, and travel
- Romance with a significant other (not simply a comfortable relationship)
Happiness Means Rejecting Comfort
It is all too easy to make your life about routine and comfort. In fact, most productivity gurus explain how to get more done, how to schedule, how to be more efficient, and while all of these things are useful, they’re secondary, not primary in focus. These things can help you get to where you want to be, but whether or not you are living on the edge of your comfort level or fulfilling your passions is not a function of how effective your calendar or to-do list are. Instead, it’s a function of what you have decided you want to spend your time and energy working towards.
It’s very easy to ignore the voice in your head that tells you you’re not happy at your job, or that you want to see your family more, or that you shouldn’t have canceled plans with your close friend. Many do it through excuses (i.e. “I don’t have time” or “I don’t want to make promises I can’t keep”). If you’re telling yourself you don’t have enough time to do something that’s really important to you, you’re probably spending too much time on something that isn’t.
Don’t Delude Yourself — You Decide Your Own Path
The key here is your control over your decisions. Making excuses for why you don’t have time to focus on the things that really matter is surrendering your autonomy, piece by piece. To quote High Fidelity, it’s “suicide by tiny increments.” Each and every person possesses an infinite capacity for creativity, beauty, energy, and purpose, and the more you dull the desire for those things with work-related stress, an unhealthy lifestyle, or destructive relationships, the less you are able to realize that potential.
So how does this translate into action? If you feel that your life is a little too bland or comfortable, I recommend the following:
- Sit down with a piece of paper or your computer, and write down what there is too much of in your life, and what there’s a lack of.
- Keep doing this until you get past the material or petty things and starting coming up with the things that really get you excited.
- Once you have a list of things that you want to be doing more of, start brainstorming ideas of how to incorporate them into your broad life plan, as well as your daily schedule. This will likely translate into things you need to do less of, like watch TV, maintain friendships that aren’t serving either person, or doing extra work for your job at home. Are you a people pleaser? Do you sign up to do things that aren’t that important to you out of guilt or social obligation?
A Passionate Life Imitates Art
I think there’s a reason that artists often have such emotional turmoil in their lives — it’s because for them, the stakes of living passionately are that high. I’m not saying that emotional turmoil is something to seek or that it’s integral part of a passionate life, but if you don’t feel strongly about the life you lead, then it might be time to rethink how you’re leading it. Contentment is a dangerous concept — when someone describes himself as “content,” it means nothing in his life is really all that bad, and nothing is really that good.
Contentment did not create the Mona Lisa. Personal growth and passion come from living outside of your comfort zone and striving for the things that you think about at the end of the day, the things you really want to be spending your time on. Remember, the stakes couldn’t be higher — this is the only opportunity you’re going to get to fulfill your dreams.