For most of our lives we are told we can do better. If we get 8/10 on a spelling test we need to get 10/10 on the next one. If we score a goal in a houseleague hockey game, we have to record a hat trick in the next one. If we work at a job for a certain amount of time, we should be working towards a promotion. If we have an apartment, we need a house. The desire to perpetually achieve in our professional and personal lives is noble. However, if our only aspiration is to improve our current situation, what is our destination? If we always think that there must be “something more”, what is our definition of success?
Before we formulate our image of happiness we must learn how to feel it. We have to enable ourselves to appreciate what we have in this moment. We must allow ourselves to feel satisfaction in what we have done today. We need to acknowledge how far we have come. Unfortunately, this is contrary to what we are daily bombarded with by superiors, teachers, the media and society as a whole. Money is portrayed as the most reliable measurement of well-being. Supermodels set the standard for physical appearance. Consumerism teaches us that “more is more”. In my case, the thought that I always needed to be a better piano player became all consuming.
When I was in first year at Berklee College of Music, an enriched program was established within the school called the Berklee Global Jazz Institute (BGJI). It was artistically directed by renowned pianist Danilo Perez and hosted a faculty of some of the best jazz musicians in the world. After two declined applications, in my junior year I was finally accepted. For a couple of days I was ecstatic. I felt immense pride when I told my friends and family that I had been admitted. I congratulated myself for all the time and effort I had put in. However, it wasn’t long before that annoying voice in the back of all of our minds set off a chain of irrational thoughts: “What if I can’t keep up with the other musicians in the program? What if I was only accepted because of the essay I wrote as part of my application and not my actual musicianship? I don’t deserve this.” A combination of insecurity and anxiety was my natural response. Any feeling of happiness must have been an illusion or foreshadowing of disaster. These imposing thoughts prevented me from appreciating my accomplishment. I only recently realized that I needed to change this reactionary pattern of thinking.
In retrospect, there were so many things I should have been thankful for and proud of after being admitted to the program. I was fortunate to have been surrounded by such fantastic musical peers that inspired me to persevere. I was lucky to have teachers who fostered my progress. I should have congratulated myself for doing everything I could to achieve this goal despite the first two rejections. In the past two years, through the practice of mindfulness I have improved my ability to be conscious of these things. But I still have to remind myself every once in a while to remain aware.
There is so much depth in every moment of happiness. The outcome of a successful journey is just a symptom. We must be in touch with feelings of gratitude and fulfillment in order for the end result to be meaningful. Furthermore, we need to enjoy the process, the moments of success and failure along the way. Granted, we should be aware that there is always room to grow in the future. But before that, we must let ourselves dwell in the happiness of now.