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Dear Nicola...

I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted, why aren’t I happy?

Written by . Published on April 5th 2011.

Dear Nicola...

Nicola Mostyn

Monday 4 April 2011

I’ve got everything I’ve ever wanted, why aren’t I happy?

Dear Nicola

I am a forty year old man with a great wife and family, an enviable job, nice house, great life. I know that I have a lot to be grateful for in my life, but at the core of it all, I just feel like there is something missing. Last year we moved to a bigger house after I got a promotion, and a few months in, I just got subsumed by a huge sense of ‘what’s the point?’ We’ve just come back from visiting relatives in Australia and I can’t help but feel like it would be a better life out there for us there. My wife can’t see where I am coming from, when we’ve got so much here, but I’m just not satisfied.

Nicola replies:

Without wanting to trivialise your problem, this might be what is commonly known as a mid life crisis.

Probably it happens at around mid life because that is when people start to see the treadmill of chasing for what it is. Up until then, we live for the future – mainly because there is more of it than the past. First we chase the end of school, then the beginning of university, or the first job. Then we tell ourselves that things will be better when we have a relationship, then a house, a promotion, a wedding, kids, a second home...

It tends to be only when people have amassed pretty much everything they thought they wanted that they start to wonder when that feeling – the happiness that’s always on the horizon - will actually arrive.

There are various ways to deal with this. Some just keep going as they were, pinning their happiness on bigger and bigger goals- the new country, in your case, but it could just as easily be the new relationship, or the new career or the new body.

Arguably worse off are those who start to look back, no longer saying, “It will be OK when,” but “It would have been okay if.” Quite a neat trick since it’s impossible to go back in time and prove that no, actually, they really wouldn’t have become as blissful as the Buddha had they been a footballer/rock star/parent/bachelor. Just check out celebrities – do they all seem utterly content? Many are presumably dealing with exactly the same situation as you. They finally got everything they ever dreamed of – even the world confirms that they’ve arrived - and yet..still, no fireworks.

But there is a third way. You could use a career/marriage/life crisis to face up to the reality that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, just a rainbow’s end that keeps on moving. To get all self helpy for a moment, it isn’t about the destination, it’s about the journey.

Hence why your Australia plan might not be the answer. As Alain de Botton explains in The Art of Travel, travel is alluring for various reasons, but in the end, we always take ourselves with us. And that, I fear, will be the problem for you. Down Under may be a wonderful place to live, but it won’t be the kind of wonderful you imagine, because it can’t get rid of that basic life dissatisfaction that is, alas, the human condition.

New goals are not a bad idea as such. As Nietzsche said, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”

But since you are considering a massive upheaval, you might as well start from where you are. Are you living in a way that reflects who you really are? Does your life have meaning? After all, much of the ‘success’ chased through the average life has more to do with what’s expected of us than what we actually want. (Again, Alain de Botton is quite inspiring in his thoughts on this subject, here.)

Don’t get me wrong - even if you had a life that matched your passions perfectly, you still wouldn’t be happy 24, 7. Happiness is not meant to be a permanent state, or we’d get used to it and have to rename it boredom. But maybe if you got to know yourself a bit better, you’d feel more peaceful and accepting of the highs and lows of your day to day existence.

So, yes, you should pay attention to your dissatisfaction and seize this opportunity to change your life, but not dragging your family across the world. At least not yet. If you bear in mind that, wherever you go, you take yourself with you, then why not make your next goal becoming the sort of companion you are happy to live with? That should keep you busy.

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