A few days ago, I watched Marley & Me with my boyfriend. While there are many funny scenes with the boisterous dog Marley, that I can relate to as a puppy Mommy, one of the questions the movie raised for me was about Marley’s owner, John Grogan. In the movie, John wants to be a reporter, but what he keeps on getting offered is to be a columnist. He tries it out, is great at it, gets a big following, but the dream of being a reporter stays with him. When he finally gets the chance to be a reporter at a different newspaper, he gets his wife’s blessing to uproot his whole family and move so he can take on the new position. But as time goes on he finds out that he isn’t particularly suited to being a reporter and doesn’t enjoy it as much, so he asks if he can go back to being a columnist.
I kept on pondering this question: How many times do we think we want something, but we really just like the idea of it, or we don’t actually know what it is truly like until we try it? And then when we get it, we want the other thing that we already had or want something else altogether?
Sometimes we may not even fully understand why we want something. We may have a dream, like becoming a pop star, and we think it’s because we like singing and performing, but maybe it is really because we crave attention and validation. Or we think we want to be an entrepreneur because we want to be a visionary and build a company from the ground up, but it may also be because we like the idea of being in control and having the image of a risk-taker. But what happens when we feel better about ourselves and no longer have the need for validation or if having a certain image is no longer important to us?
In addition, we are actually not very good at predicting what will make us happy, as Daniel Gilbert points out in his book “Stumbling on Happiness.” Our imagination plays tricks on us when we try to look forward. So we try our best to navigate our life toward what we believe to be a “successful” future, only to find that the future often doesn’t turn out as we expected.
Does that mean we should give up our dreams and just be happy with what we have in the first place? Or is trial and error a necessary process we have to go through in order to figure out what we really like and want?
Gilbert suggests that the best way to predict how we will feel is to ask others who are in the same circumstances today how they are feeling. Depending on what we are trying to predict, it may be difficult to find people to ask or to get some honest answers, but it’s a good place to start.
In the end, I believe that life is a process and usually doesn’t turn out as expected. There is no way to predict all the curveballs life throws us or opportunities that arise. It’s often impossible to tell if we made the “right” or “wrong” choice, because we don’t know what would have happened otherwise. And even if a choice seems “wrong”, we may have needed this experience to teach us something or grow in some way. We learn more about ourselves as we go through life. Our motivations and priorities may change. We sometimes need to try new things to see if we like them and if they will make us happy.
The important thing to remember is that we are not “stuck” if we choose something we don’t like or if life deals us an unexpected hand. We can always choose: how we want to be (calm, angry, grateful, excited, hopeful, sad…etc.), how we want to see and interpret what is happening (it’s a challenge, an adventure, a disaster, a blessing, a surprise, a burden, a rollercoaster), how we want to handle our current circumstances and what we want to do next.
What choice will you make today?