Most of the people you know have the formula for life backwards. Most of them, without consciously admitting it or realizing it, believe that if they accomplish something first they will be happy second. They think if they get a raise, get attention, win some grand prize, or climb Mount Everest that somehow that will change their life. That will validate them, and they will go the rest of their life feeling validated and wonderful. Problem solved.
The summer after my junior year of college could have been amazing. I played in a prestigious college summer baseball league, and if I performed well there was a good chance I would have been drafted the following spring. Since this was the last chance I’d have to show scouts how good I was, I knew how important it really was.
The first half of the season, I focused on enjoying it. I wrote down three things I was grateful for every night, and focused on being friends with my teammates and breathing in the warm summer air. Playing in this league was a goal of mine for a long time, and I finally had a chance to enjoy it. The first half of the season I was among the top ranks of players in the league, winning player of the week honors shortly before it came tumbling down.
My focus switched after a bad series against some very good pitchers. I went from focusing on enjoyment and breathing in the air to grinding against the pressure to succeed. I wanted to be drafted so badly that I let that consume my mind. Instead of being happy with what I had, I focused on needing to get hits, like my back was against the wall, every single game.
You can probably guess what happened.
The second half of the season, my average fell off a cliff, my strikeouts rose higher, and my mood got worse and worse.
That was not an accident, and it was not a coincidence. Wanting to succeed is fantastic, but when you sacrifice your health and well-being, your body breaks you down. Suddenly, you are fighting not only external obstacles, but internal ones that you create with your own unhappiness. You pile on the adversity when you aren’t in a good mood doing what you supposedly really want to be doing. One of the best lessons I’ve ever learned was from that summer, because after slowing down and realizing what happened, it was clear that it was my unhappiness that caused my lack of success, not the other way around.
A positive mental attitude is more than just believing that you will succeed, it is also pursuing happiness independently of whatever your career, schooling, or hobbies are. Happiness is not some grand elusive this that follows from success–success naturally follows those that enjoy what they are doing. This has been dubbed “the happiness advantage,” and has been studied across multiple realms of positive psychology. By focusing on positive things, we give them an opportunity to exist. When we face obstacles, we happily climb over them, because we aren’t focused on completing the task. We’re focused on enjoying it.
How You Can Use This to Improve Right Now
Every night before you go to bed, or every morning when you wake up (or both), write down three things that you are grateful to have in your life. For me, it’s almost always something simple, like “I’m grateful I have air conditioning,” or “I’m grateful I have internet access.” Soak that in, really think about how great it is to have all of those little things you cherish so much. After a few weeks, you’ll start noticing that your life is not only easier, but you are seeing better and better results. And no, that’s not an accident.