Wonder and the Art of Being Content

As it’s getting closer to this holiday season I’m getting more and more excited! Christmas has always been my favorite time of the year. I love everything about the holiday. I love the shopping, the food, the parties, the gift giving. I love Christmas trees and Christmas music. I have so many wonderful memories from my childhood with my family and grandparents and so many other amazing memories with my own children. There was nothing like watching the kids’ faces as they come out of their bedrooms and see a bicycle under the tree!

Unfortunately, as my five children started to move out, things started changing… Christmas was becoming less and less fun. The memories didn’t compare. I started looking around and realizing this happened to a lot of people I knew. As they got older, they didn’t really celebrate the holidays the same anymore. Many of them don’t even get a tree at all because it’s too much hassle! I was like, what the hell? No way!

I started to realize the reason for our disappointment was not because of Christmas itself but because we were comparing these new Christmases to all Christmases past. In fact, it’s worse than that! What we actually do is create a combination of all the best Christmases of our past in our head. Then, we wrap them together and pretend as if all those great memories happened in just one year. We forget the things that didn’t work and only hold onto the best memories. Now, just to punish ourselves, we compare every Christmas with all those amazing memories of past Christmases. No wonder it doesn’t add up or stand a chance. No wonder it’s a disappointment.

So, one year I decided to change the game. I announced this Christmas, everything was going to be new. I pretended I had never had or seen a Christmas before. If Pamela, my wife, would ask me if I wanted to have turkey on Christmas, or a tree, or music, I would say “I don’t know, is that what people do on Christmas? This is all new to me!”

I looked at the Christmas month with fresh eyes. I examined everything as if for the first time. Now obviously, I knew what I was doing to myself. I hadn’t actually forgotten anything. But the result was miraculous! Christmas felt amazing again. Just forcing myself to see things fresh made the experience so much more enjoyable.

Now, this story isn’t just about Christmas. You can apply this concept to all areas of your life. Happiness tends to be based on our reality compared to our expectations.

H=E−R. HAPPINESS = EXPECTATIONS − REALITY.

In other words, like my Christmas, we are happy to the extent that our reality is what we expected or hoped for. If our reality is equal to, or better, than we thought it should be, then we are happy. If it is less, we are unhappy. That equation has two parts.

In my blog “Understanding Your Primary Question” I talked about changing your reality. but there is another part to the equation and that’s what the Christmas example is: changing our expectations. If you take monkeys who have never had an apple and you give them an apple every morning, they will be ecstatic they get that apple every day. After a few days, you give them two apples and they go apeshit (pun intended) and they are extremely happy. After a few more days, if you only give them one apple they get angry and depressed because they thought they were getting two apples. The same thing that made them happy a few days ago now makes them mad. What changed? It was not the reality, it was the expectation. We often need to change our expectations and the best way to do this is to become curious, to become fascinated. Wouldn’t life be more interesting if we were full of wonder and were fascinated with everything around us? And if we combine that with gratitude, we can remain present, be content, and live our lives fully.

I’m still all about goal setting. I love planning and making the future happen. I think those who are successful are those who plan the future and then make it happen. Now I’ve learned to add the art of being content to my goal setting. For me, that comes in the mode of being grateful and being curious. Try it and tell me how it affects your life!

Living Every Minute,

Dr. Tim

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