Within my first semester of university I had a professor tell me to quit, get some life experience and maybe come back in a few years and start again. She didn’t think that I had the writing skills to get by. It was the last day to drop classes before the no refund from tuition deadline.
I was devasted. I knew I was going to be a teacher and the only way to do that was get a university degree. My parents were 5 provinces away. I still remember walking away from her office with my feet feeling like stones finding my way back to my apartment and flopping on my bed. My stomach in knots, my head in a blur with my head spinning around with no solution in sight.
My dad was able to fly out and spend a day with me. He met with my professor and they had a conversation about her opinions on my future.
I waited anxiously outside her office. When they were finished I shock her hand and told her that I would see her in class the following week. My dad and I went for a walk. That conversation has never left me. It went something like this:
‘Dara, what do you think it will take for you to be truly happy?’, my reply was something along the lines of getting my degree, teaching kids with special needs, getting married and having my own kids.
‘So you will be happy when and only when all of those things happen?’ I had to think about that for a minute. That seems like a long time to wait to be happy, but I was confused. He saw the confusion on my face and proceeded to ask some more questions.
‘When you were in high school what needed to happen for you to know you were happy?’ Hum, I thought about it…a boyfriend? Getting my drivers licence?
‘The only time you were happy was when you had a boyfriend or the day you got your drivers licence?’ Oh boy, this was getting complicated for my brain because when I got my drivers licence I wasn’t happy forever and always.
After that disappointment of thinking that all my troubles would go away when I could drive myself any where I wanted to go, I figured that the magic ticket to happiness was high school graduation. Or having a certain amount of money in the bank, or having a gorgeous wardrobe or the perfect summer job.
Does this sound familiar to any of you: ‘I will be happy when thinking?’ This is what I call the plateau effect. We assign total happiness and contentment to one event or person (spouse).
Do you see the thought error here? Do you see how people can live their whole lives and never be happy?
When we assign happiness to an event or circumstance outside of ourselves, it will never be long lasting. It will not be enduring.
So what am I saying? How can we avoid the Plateau Effect (I will be happy when syndrome)?
We find happiness every day. We look for happiness in our lives and we hold on to those moments. Happiness doesn’t just happen to us. We create happiness. We seek out happiness. We recognize happiness. We cultivate happiness.
I have shared several examples of this in my video today. The most tragic side effect of the ‘Plateau Effect’ is the missed opportunities that life could have offered.
I want to offer another way of thinking about this ‘achieving happiness’, ‘having arrived’ or ‘being in a state of fulfilment’.
Let’s take a look at why we think that when we achieve a certain goal like getting our drivers licence we will be happy. What are the benefits and how will our life change when we can drive by ourselves? We have independence. Independence equates to more freedom. When we have more freedom we have more options. When we have more options we have opportunities where we can grow and evolve. When we grow and evolve we can discover more about ourselves and discover new and wonderful things.
Can we do all of these things in our own minds? Can we have freedom in our thoughts? Can we have more independence in our brains? Of course, all of these options are open to us. We can do all of this right now sitting in our bedrooms, or a park bench or standing in the line at the grocery store.
So what do we really want? We want the qualities and attributes that bring joy. All of these can be cultivated and found inside.
Russell M Nelson said that joy is found not in the circumstances of our lives (amount of money in the bank, the size of our house or the number of kids) but in the FOCUS of our lives (being kind, taking time for relationships, nurturing talents).
I had that conversation with my dad back in early October 1991. For the past 29 years I have been constantly checking in with myself with who and what I am assigning my happiness too.
I invite you to think if you happen to fall into the Plateau Effect? Here are a few prompts tithing about: the size of your house, the status you have in your work, the number on the scale, the number of vacations, how many followers on Instagram, I think you get the idea.
- Take one of your Plateau Effect thoughts. Write it down.
2. Write down why you think that circumstance would bring you joy.
3. Could you have those now?
I shared with you my example in the video.
This work when done and applied brings freedom.