“Is this something we still want to do?”
I stared at him from across the table, oh-so-movie-perfectly as our apathetic diner waitress doled out our 6pm omelette and breakfast burrito. Two days and fourteen apartments later, round one of our search for the “perfect” NYC pad was closing out with a lackluster finish. As life-long West Coasters, my boyfriend and I knew looking for a home in New York would be different…we just didn’t realize how different.
How many times throughout the week do we play the “If Only” game? If only I had a higher budget, I could afford that apartment. If only I had a tech team, I could crush the online game. If only I looked like that, I could avoid feeling like this. If Onlys (which I’ll refer to as IOs from here on out) hold us in a loop of constant longing, constantly believing that our happiness is way far out of reach.
It doesn’t help that we live in a consumer culture that’s basically alive and thriving because of IOs. If only you were richer? Welp, if you pay your dues to our organization, we’ll help you make millions in a month! If only you were thinner? Here, try this branded diet and you’ll drop down to your slimmest size ever.
I know that positive affirmations alone – think looking at yourself in the mirror and saying I Am Abundant! I Am Beautiful! – work fab for some people. But me? I’m not one of them. I can definitely fake the “fake it ’till you make it,” but I’ve found that even if I do start to believe I Am Abundant or I Am Beautiful, then a crappy day hits and I’m right back where I started. Because for me, positive affirmations don’t cut it without a solid base to make them work. And for most of us, it’s Ironman-level difficult to “affirmation” our way out of a feeling like worthlessness, shame, or lack that cuts super deep.
And so when our fourteen-apartment blitz ended forty-eight hours after landing at JFK with maybe one or two “ok options” to speak for the experience, all the “Our place is out there!”s we’d both been spouting off to one another (coupled with our morning
obsession with ritual of checking StreetEasy over jazz music and a cup of coffee) didn’t feel so affirmative whilst sitting at that diner emotionally depleted and physically exhausted.
I realized that I had been completely ignoring a concept I implement in the rest of my life, that I somehow thought I could cast aside in this “dream experience”: Circumstantial Happiness.
Circumstantial happiness is recognizing your situational limits and then asking yourself how you can be as happy, content, fulfilled, or successful with the cards you’ve been dealt.
To be clear: circumstantial happiness is NOT settling, and it’s not NOT striving. It’s believing and knowing that there *is* another step out there on the grand staircase of life, but right now you’re just learning how to climb this one. You’re working within a very specific circumstance (hence the name), and that circumstance is not going to change any time soon. How can you not only make the very best of it, but more importantly, how can you reach the very top of that stair step so that when the next one comes about, you will be ready?
Creating WANT, and constantly working on ways to make it bolder, braver, and better has been a huge practice in aiming for circumstantial happiness. I’ve got my long-term goals for WANT, sure – but currently, the work is pretty much on me. I have no tech team, I have no PR rep. I’ve got consultants who’ve answered (or asked) the hard questions, sound engineer friends (holla, Roger and Chris!) who’ve helped with the pod, and bawse like-minded women who have been more than generous with their advice and support (three cheers for women uplifting other women; we’re all in this together). But when it comes down to implementing the code, making the page, writing the post, all that jazz? It’s on me. And I am so glad it is.
Sometimes it’s easy to feed the IO beast – usually when I think about all I could do with a semblance of a budget. What if I could afford a WANT team – even an assistant? What if I was a master photographer or expert coder and could bang out work in half the time? What if I had PR help or knew blah blah blah blah blah? Ooof, just typing it all out feels toxic. BECAUSE IT IS. Living in the IOs doesn’t just stunt our growth, it acts to reinforce the heinously poisonous notion that we’re always being left behind.
Because this is my now – being scrappy, bootstrapping, relying on the kindness of community and the power of perseverance – I am learning important lessons about what I will and will not tolerate. I am learning about how many or few fcks I give about any given moment, and how each move can either be a choice to wait and stay complacent or move and be proactive. And by aiming for circumstantial happiness over and over – gaining the fullest amount of joy possible in the now – eventually it just becomes regular old happiness.
When you find yourself tempted by the IOs of your situation, ask yourself:
• HOW CAN I MAXIMIZE MY HAPPINESS WITHIN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE?
• WHAT ARE THE CHALLENGES I’M WILLING TO TACKLE IN ORDER TO MAXIMIZE MY HAPPINESS WITHIN THIS CIRCUMSTANCE?
• IF BIG-PICTURE GOALS WERE NOT IN THE PICTURE AND ALL I HAD WAS THE NOW – WHAT ARE THE CHOICES THAT WOULD MAKE ME PROUD OF MYSELF AND/OR THE WORK I AM DOING?
“I definitely want to move to New York. And I definitely want to move with you – right now. I think we just need to make a shift in our thinking.”
And so we pivoted. Instead of dwelling on the IOs of what we were wishing for, we started to brainstorm about our circumstantial happiness: the reality we can work within. So we’ve got a set budget. How can we maximize our happiness within that budget? (Top priorities: space feels cozy, neighborhood feels vibrant) What will be a fun challenge to work with in order to maximize that happiness? (Small square footage, certain appliances AWOL) If we ended up staying in this space for a while, what would make us proud to call it home? (Snazzy location, super-personal decor, a nook to sit and stare out the window whilst listening to jazz music and drinking our coffee…sans StreetEasy)
Now? We’re psyched. We’ve shifted the area in which we’re looking, and we’ve shifted our mindset about what it means to find a home. Yes, home is wherever we are together – but realistically, home is a space that feels cozy, in a neighborhood that feels vibrant, with personal touches that make it a place we want to come back to at the end of the day. It makes me laugh that I even got so extreme as to make it an all-or-nothing situation – I wasn’t even seeing that we already had it all, we were just looking in a different direction.
Eventually, circumstantial happiness becomes regular happiness. And it happens way sooner than you’d think – until you realize that you’re now on the next step of the staircase, and there’s a whole new set of circumstances to offer you more happiness than you thought possible.
manhattan, i’m prepared for you.
Never miss a post. Ever. Sign up + join the WANT movement: