Way to Balance Short-Term and Long-Term Happiness

By Ali Luke

Do you find it hard to resist chocolate cake, even though you’re on a diet? Do you end up buying new DVDs or video games, even though you’ve made a careful budget?

There’s nothing wrong with you – and you’re certainly not alone. Most of us find it really difficult to stick with our goals at times. And there’s an understandable reason why.

When you’re attempting change in your life, you often need to forsake some short-term pleasures for the sake of happiness over the longer-term. The various things that appeal to you in the moment – like eating chocolate, buying a DVD, hanging out on Facebook, watching TV – are all ones that will bring you some immediate gratification.

Of course, your long-term goals are more important to you. In fact, they’ll probably bring you much more happiness over time. But in order to reach them, you need to find a way to balance that future happiness with your moment-by-moment impulses.

Short-Term Happiness Isn’t Bad

Some people get the idea that any immediate pleasures are inherently bad. They try hard to resist all snack foods, or they never buy anything for fun, or they cram every moment of the day with work or chores.

There’s nothing at all wrong with enjoying yourself in the moment. In fact, when your long-term goals are on track, you’ll find it much easier to relax and have fun: you won’t have that nagging sense of guilt when you cut yourself a slice of cake or when you head to the cash register with that DVD.

But … Short-Term Happiness Isn’t Everything

On the flip side, of course, you can’t give in to every impulse. If you live too much in the moment, you’ll find things gradually getting worse and worse: you’ll end up in debt, unable to afford necessities, let alone luxuries – or you’ll end up unfit and overweight, struggling to enjoy activities that were once easy for you.

It’s crucial here to find a balance. That might mean that you don’t eat dessert Monday to Friday, but you treat yourself at the weekend. It could mean you give yourself a budget for entertainment spending – say, $50/month – and you use that guilt-free.

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Adjusting Your Focus to See the Long-Term

One of the reasons why we struggle to stay committed to big goals is because they seem so far off. It can be tough to turn down a slice of cake when losing 50lbs is a year or two away. It’s difficult to resist a $50 purchase when you’ve got $50,000 of debt: it feels pointless.

Try boosting your commitment to your goal by looking ahead. Write down what it feels like to have met your goal, in the present tense. (I am happy and healthy. My old jeans fit perfectly again…) and read it on a regular basis. Remind yourself what you’re committing to – and remember that small steps will get you there.

Joining Short and Long-Term Happiness

Sometimes, your goals might seem completely opposed to what you want in the short-term. For instance, you might have a goal of losing weight – but you’d also like to enjoy your food.

Look for ways to be happy now and happy tomorrow. That might mean, for instance, trying out some new fruits and vegetables, or creating some diet-friendly but delicious meals. If you’re taking up exercise to get fitter, then experiment with different sports and activities to see what you enjoy most.

If you can, try to centre your life on something that gives you both short-term and long-term happiness. Find a career that means you’ll be where you want to be in a few years time … but that also gives you what you need right now. That might mean following a particular passion, like graphic design or music, or it could mean choosing a career that fits well with the lifestyle you want – perhaps one that allows you the flexibility to pick your kids up from school every day.

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