Something I've been saying to myself lately is, "Don't let your ambition get in the way of your happiness." Meaning: stop looking so far forward that it robs you of today's satisfaction.
It's easy to do. In fact, we have a term for it: "the hedonic treadmill." We're constantly looking ahead to what might make us happier, our expectations always on the rise...
"If I had this job, I'd be happier."
"If I made this salary, I'd be happier."
"If I had this kind of relationship, I'd be happier."
...and yet the harsh truth is, this sort of happiness will always be fleeting.
Most of the things that we think will make us happy would only do so for a brief time. Some, once we actually got them, might not make us happy at all. Because so much of our life's satisfaction comes not from these accomplishments but is an internal state.
So how do we develop this internal state? Certainly there is no easy solution - at least not one that I've found - but a lot of it comes down to finding meaning (or purpose) in your life. Existential psychiatrist Viktor Frankl said that what drives us, as a species, is a "will to meaning;" a desire to feel that our lives matter. With that desire in mind, he reminded his readers (in his seminal work, Man's Search for Meaning) that "happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue." That we can only find happiness and meaning in our lives when we live true to our own hearts, forgetting the so-called "pursuit of happiness" altogether.
That has been where I've been putting my energy, as of late. Instead of thinking "What will make me happier?", I have been trying to live my life in a way that feels truer to my values. By living a life that is more authentic to who I want to be, it invites satisfaction in, even when the road gets tough, because I know it is the right road for me. That even if life is hard, it is meaningful because it is the life I have chosen for myself.
Dr. Frankl said, "Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way." Certainly we do not have control over every facet of our lives, nor should we seek it, but in many ways we will always have choice; if not in what life gives us, in how we respond. And that is what I would encourage anyone to do: understand what your values are and live by them as closely as you can. Whatever comes up in your life, you can ask yourself, "Have I lived by my values?" If you have, then that's all the success you need. Then, no matter whether the outcome is good or bad, you will find solace in your choices. If good things come to you, you will feel you've earned them; when bad things come your way, you will at least know you've been true to yourself. Because that is all you can do: live by the truth of your own heart and have faith that, in the process, happiness will ensue.