When I was in college at Kent State studying psychology I took a course that covered the basics of psychology. Almost every basic psychology course will, at some point, discuss Abraham Maslow and the incredible contributions he made to help us better understand human thinking.
Maslow provided us with his theory of motivation and was able to clearly explain the levels of needs we all face. There was a clear hierarchy, which showed us what motivates us based on what our needs are.
I will probably always remember sitting in one particular class when the instructor decided to provide a little more insight than the standard explanation. One thing really caught my attention. So much so that I can still picture the professor in the classroom and remember exactly where I was sitting to this day.
He talked about self-actualization. He talked about it from a psychological standpoint but also from a spiritual standpoint. He used it to give a different look at psychology. Instead of looking at mental problems or reasons we act a specific way, he highlighted, for the first time, the psychology of improvement.
Self-actualization, he said, was a place that we can strive to get to. It was something that most of us never truly realize and that it doesn’t come from an excess of money or fame. And the one thing that he said that has really shaped my life was when he explained that those who attain self-actualization don’t point to years of unhappiness and struggle to eventually find self-actualization. They actually said that they enjoyed the journey and that the journey was the important part, not the destination.
At the time I was a little surprised by this. I always thought that we work hard and sacrifice, take risks and push through so that we can someday reach a place of happiness. This new perspective forced me to realize that happiness isn’t a destination. It isn’t about the pursuit of happiness but rather it is about letting go of unhappiness and finding contentment.
I am still learning this important lesson. As each day brings new challenges, new triumphs and failures, new perspectives and new viewpoints, being happy is separate from all of that. It isn’t dictated by the ease or difficulty in the task. It isn’t dictated by the daily chores or daily needs.
There is a great book called The Present: The Gift that Makes You Happier and More Successful at Work and in Life, Today by Spencer Johnson. In it he explains the value of living in the moment and appreciating things that normally we miss. Doing this can drastically change your life and your appreciation for the blessings in it.
Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment also goes into the power of living in the present moment and enjoying the journey that you are on.
There is even a popular band that used a lyric in one of their songs as their album title and it hints at this very principle. Our Lady Peace ‘s album Happiness…is not a fish that you can catch is an insightful look at the fact that happiness isn’t a destination or a fish that you catch and it is actually more about the journey.
Find happiness in the journey, in the process, and in the hard work. If you can find happiness during the journey the destination becomes less important. Just yesterday I watched a college football special with FSU coach Jimbo Fisher. In it he said that his team has talent but to be a great team they have to “love the grind.” He said they have to learn to enjoy the preparation and the hard work otherwise they will just do enough which will never be enough to reach their lofty goals.
Focus on progress and improvement. Not rewards and perfection. Doing this will help you move towards your goal and help you to continue to do the things you need to in order to succeed.