Fill in the blank for this statement: “When XYZ happens, then I will be happy.” When I lose 10 pounds, am in a relationship, or have a certain (usually indeterminable) amount of money all fit the bill. Often it’s when I find a more satisfying or higher-paying job, or for many right now, any job at all.

On an intellectual level I see that it makes sense to be grateful for the present. If I believe happiness is only available at a distant point in the future then I’m wasting the many joys and gifts of this moment. On a more emotional level, that can feel like a bitter pill to swallow when areas of my life are not where I want them to be.

So I’ve been grappling with this question of why it’s hard to accept present circumstances exactly as they are. Here are a few reasons I came up with:

I don’t really want to accept the way things are because then that would mean:
1. I like how they are.
2. I’m complacent and therefore not working hard enough on the circumstances.
3. If I don’t hold onto the situation tightly with vigilance then nothing will change.
4. If I accept the present, including things I’d like to change or am not happy with, then those things will never change.
Under this last theory, pain or unhappiness = motivation toward my goals.
(At the Omega Institute Women and Happiness event, author and speaker Geneen Roth cited a study which said people believe self-criticism equals change.)

Looking at this list objectively, they are clearly voices of an inner critic. Another less harsh, critical and pessimistic voice reminds me that there are cracks in these theories and assumptions. This opens up the possibility of being more compassionate around the areas of my life that are not all fixed up.

As a friend recently said to me, is it possible that both are true? You can be happy now and you will be happier when circumstances have changed.

One area to look at is dating and romance. People want to date and are attracted to happy, contented people. This feels backwards since most people are dating in the first place because they no longer wish be alone. The paradox is when you’re happy with yourself it’s easier to meet someone.

So how do we make peace with the present, knowing it’s in our best interest to do so?
How do we apply that to jobs, jobseeking and loving your life when you may not love your job or even have one? Employers, after all, want to hire happy people and not those down on their luck.

While I may not have all the answers, I’m starting to see the solution involves a softening around the goal, being a kind and good friend to yourself, and feeling deeply your own value and self-worth regardless of your circumstance. These are not simple or easy objectives, especially for those of us with a life-long habit of self-criticism, but they are worth exploring. What internal shifts would this mean for you? How can you relate to your circumstances differently?

The irony of course is that once we accept and make peace with the present, it changes, often in the direction of what we are seeking.

For an additional tool on making peace with the present, see a previous post I wrote featuring an exercise by Martha Beck called Treasuring the Future Now.