Can I ask you a question?
Have you ever wanted to make a change in your life or in your career, only to be plagued by this nagging doubt that it really won’t make a difference?
That you’ll still be unhappy, still feel unfulfilled, still not have what you really want?
After all, you probably know the old saying….”wherever you go, there you are”.
Meaning that you can change your external circumstances but that you’ll bring all of your problems with you.
And research in the field of happiness and positive psychology confirms the truth of that saying.
According to the research, our external circumstances make very little difference to our overall level of happiness or life satisfaction.
I want to push back against that idea, the idea that our external circumstances matter little to our happiness.
But first, let me tell you a story…
When my wife and I got married in October of 2014, we weren’t able to live together right away.
We live in Bogota, Colombia and in Bogota renting an apartment is a complicated process.
On top of that, we don’t own a car and searching for an apartment in a city of 8 million people without your own car is exhausting.
Finally, one Saturday morning, I was looking at apartment listings online and found a new listing that was VERY close to my mother-in-law’s house.
Living close to her mom was my wife’s top priority and everything else about the apartment seemed perfect as well: the price, the size, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms.
But…there was one major problem. The apartment was still occupied and we would need to make a decision before we could actually see the inside of the apartment.
Still, we felt confident that this was the right apartment for us.
We had seen several photos of the inside of the apartment and the building looked nice from the outside.
So we took a leap of faith. We rented the apartment without ever seeing the inside.
When we moved into the apartment a few weeks later, we were shocked at the condition.
The floors were covered with ratty, old carpet.
The walls hadn’t been painted, only patched over.
The kitchen was so small you could barely turn around in it and one of the three bedrooms was so small as to be useless.
Neither the hot water heater, nor the stove worked properly.
Only about half the electrical outlets worked.
Oh, and the apartment also hadn’t been cleaned!
I could go on but you get the picture. A few weeks later, the rental agency sent someone over to make note of all the problems with the apartment.
The stove and hot water heater were fixed (temporarily) but nothing else.
The owners of the apartment showed little interest in investing in the apartment and making it more livable for us and the rental agency couldn’t do anything without the owners approval.
And there was another major problem. My wife and I never properly considered the location of the apartment.
We were halfway up a mountain with nothing interesting in our neighborhood.
Leaving the apartment was simple enough but coming back involved an exhausting climb up the mountain.
My wife could at least escape to her mom’s house but I felt trapped in the apartment.
I would sometimes go for days without leaving the apartment. After all, where could I go?
So three months ago, my wife and I gave notice to the rental agency that we’d be moving out at the end of February.
All of a sudden, we became popular.
I lost count of how many rental agency employees came by our apartment, taking stock of all the problems.
And the owners finally agreed to make substantial changes to the apartment, starting with replacing the old, ratty carpet.
But for my wife and I, the changes were a little too little, a little too late.
And we also wanted to escape the mountain.
This past weekend, we finally moved into a new apartment.
On the surface, it seems like such a small thing, moving from one apartment to another.
And yet, I can already tell that this small change is going to make a big difference in my life and in my level of happiness.
Of that I have no doubt.
The apartment is cleaner and in better condition, the kitchen is bigger, the bedrooms are all a decent size, and everything works properly.
We’re no longer halfway up the mountain which means I no longer feel trapped in the apartment. Instead I can come and go as I want, without thinking about having to walk back up the mountain.
I’ve also found two HUGE parks in our neighborhood where my wife and I can take the dogs.
I’m already envisioning all the Saturday and Sunday afternoons we’ll be spending there, playing with the dogs, having picnics, just hanging out.
And last night, during dinner, I glanced out the window and saw a beautiful sunset. What could be better than that???
So that’s the story.
And now you’re probably thinking “So what? What am I supposed to gain from this story?”.
Here’s what I hope you gain from this story…that the story I told you was only one possible story.
See, I could have told you a completely different story about moving to a new apartment.
I could have told you a story about how the movers were careless and scratched up our dining room table and chairs. And broke a light fixture in the building that we’ll have to pay to replace.
I could have told you a story about how the new building is noisier than our previous one and that our dogs are barking more often.
I could have told you a story about how, once again, I’m living in a neighborhood where there are no coffee shops that I can go to and work during the day.
I could have told you a story about how, while this apartment is definitely nicer than our last one, it’s still over 15 years old. And that we’d really prefer to be living in a house but can’t afford to right now.
Every single one of those stories is just as true as the more positive story that I chose to tell you.
See, this is why I think that external changes don’t have a big impact on our happiness or life satisfaction.
Because we focus on the wrong things and tell the wrong story.
We focus on what we’ve lost, what we gave up. Or we focus on what we want, but still don’t have.
Psychologist and concentration camp survivor Viktor Frankl once said that one thing that can never be taken away is your freedom to choose your attitude in any given set of circumstances.
He could have just as easily said the power to tell whatever story you want about your life.
The truth is that in every situation, you have the opportunity, the power to chose what you focus on.
And to tell yourself and others a powerful and positive story about your life.
So my question for you is: What story will you tell about your life?
Will you tell a positive one? A powerful one? An inspiring one?
Or will you tell a negative one? A depressing one? A disempowering one?
The choice is yours, the power is yours, so choose wisely…