We’ve all heard the saying: life happens when we’re busy making other plans. My favorite though, has to be the Yiddish proverb: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.”
Sure, at every stage of life we can set out the most carefully-laid plans and wait for that all-important “moment of arrival”—but things have a way of happening in a way we didn’t want or anticipate.
I remember reading actor Val Kilmer’s memoir, Huckleberry, during the early days of COVID, and I love what he said about this idea in his own life.
He said: “The universe’s rejection is often the universe’s protection.”
What he means by this is that even though we may be disappointed at how things turned out, most of the time, we can see in hindsight that the turn of events was actually to our benefit and for our highest good.
What are some signs that you’re truly content, even though your life hasn’t gone to “plan”? Here are five signs we found to be the most prevalent.
1) You’ve allowed yourself to adjust to any curve balls thrown your way
Let’s say you’ve been with the same company for many years. You’re comfortable, know the job inside out, have the security of a pretty good paycheck, and you feel your co-workers are kind of a second family.
Without much warning, your boss makes the decision to lay you off because the company needs to cut costs. You’re given a handsome severance package but you’re devastated. You feel like the rug has been pulled out from beneath you.
You tell your family about it, and while they understand why you’re upset, they think you should automatically start applying for other positions. It was just a job, they say. It happens.
For many people, the end of a job—especially an ending they weren’t expecting—can bring up similar feelings to going through a divorce or even losing a loved one. You feel like a huge part of your identity and life has been taken away.
“Disenfranchised grief refers to a loss that’s not openly acknowledged, socially mourned, or publicly supported,” says Ilene Raymond Rush from Psycom.
“Some people may minimize the loss of a job, a pet, or a friendship, for example, as something that’s not worth grieving over.”
You know that even though everyone around you is telling you to simply move on and get on with it, that you need a bit of time before you throw yourself into the job hunt and grueling interviews.
Instead, you decide to spend a month processing this unexpected turn of events. You decide that you’re going to use this time to grieve the loss of not a job but also mourn the way of life that the job represented.
You even use some of the time to take yourself on a much-needed holiday to get a bit of distance and perspective.
You come back refreshed, content, and ready to take on the next chapter of your life.
2) You’re at peace with the “imperfect” way that your life has unfolded
Maybe you thought you would be a millionaire by age 40. Or married at age 30. Or have a child by 35. Maybe you thought you would become a doctor but “settled” for being a nurse because you couldn’t afford or didn’t get into medical school.
While you may have been disheartened or disappointed at first, you realize that those expectations and timelines (usually imposed by society) wouldn’t have worked for you anyway.
Sure you could have been a millionaire, but you would have had to stick it out at that soul-sucking, corporate job you hated. Maybe being “in the trenches” as a nurse allows you to give the kind of care that is more in essence with who you are.
Yeah you could have been married at the “right” age, but that relationship might have been mediocre and monotonous. You would have outgrown it and perhaps felt compelled to stick it out for the sake of the children.
You’ve realized that you are exactly where you are meant to be at this moment in time, and that you are on track to the manifestation of your desires.
You’re also at peace with where you are in life.
3) You wouldn’t want to trade places with that “perfect” version of yourself
When you are truly content, you don’t care anymore about the things you thought you wanted.
Say you always saw yourself in a luxury home in the heart of the city. You envisioned traveling to exotic locales for both work and pleasure. Perhaps you got a taste of this kind of life and found that it didn’t make you happy.
In fact, it has the opposite effect. The near-constant jet lag, the superficial conversations with self-absorbed people.
Maybe you fell in love with someone who loved country life. The more time you spent together, the more you realized how therapeutic and fulfilling it was to be surrounded by nature.
Over time, you realized that this was the version of yourself that you had been seeking for so long. You still see the jet-setting life is all well and good, but only as a once or twice a year excursion.
The perfect version of yourself can change and evolve as you do because happiness is never a place. It’s a state of being.
4) You’ve realized that happiness is a decision
We tend to put conditions on our happiness. We’ll go on holiday once we’ve lost 20 pounds.
We’ll go back to school once the youngest is out of daycare.
We’ll pursue our music or art once we have a sizable amount of savings in the bank so that we can quit our day job.
When we do these things, what we’re really doing is putting off what makes us happy indefinitely, says Dan Sullivan from Strategic Coach.
“Happiness, I’ve realized, isn’t the result of anything a person is actually doing: it’s a choice,” he says. “Every day, you make decisions about how to look at each thing that happens to you in life, whether it’s a very difficult situation or an easy situation, a negative experience, or a positive experience.”
Sullivan says that he’s made the decision to make happiness a choice, regardless of the situations he finds himself in. “I choose to be happy with whatever the outcome is.”
He believes that understanding that happiness is a choice clarifies things enormously. “Because it’s an internal decision, it’s one that can become more and more powerful the more you choose to be happy.”
5) You’ve reimagined what a fulfilling life can look like
Life is all about growing, evolving, and broadening perspective on what a deeply satisfying life can look like.
This can mean letting go of society’s shackles on what we should be doing with our life as well as letting go of the limits we place on ourselves.
Life coach Richard Leider, who has been recognized by Forbes as one of the “Top 5” most respected executive coaches, says it’s important to ask yourself this question:
“Am I living in the place I love, with the people I love doing the right work on purpose?”
Many times when we’re going about our lives and going through the motions, we don’t bother asking ourselves this vital question.
“Beware of waking up sometime in the future and finding out that you’ve been living someone else’s vision of the good life,” says Leider. “Dream a little. How do you declare victory? What does success with fulfillment—the good life—really look like to you?”
People who are truly content make it a priority to routinely check in with themselves—particularly during times of transition—to figure out if they’re happy with the direction their life is going.
They’re always adjusting and tweaking. And whenever something doesn’t go according to plan, they don’t get upset, they simply reflect and redirect.