The day is a cold one. The kind of cold that crackles, that seeps into your bones, and has you gritting your teeth. But this is normal in Iceland. The views of nature here are mystifying. The Icelanders are welcoming and some of the kindest people you’ll ever come across, but the cold is something else. It makes you feel under siege. With my breakup occurring just a month ago, I seized the opportunity to go on an adventure, to do some self-reflection and to plunge into my writing. I threw a dart on the map and this is where it landed. Where is Iceland? It’s far. Nestled between the Atlantic and Arctic Ocean, Greenland is its nearest neighbor. This is the spot, in a cozy Airbnb just minutes from the famed blue lagoon, where I tackle the topic of overcoming the need for wanting more and more — the crux of being insatiable. But how can we do this if we exist in a world of consumerism and constant consumption? As I thaw out in this miniature doll-like apartment with the cold spread over the windows like a frosty jam, I delve right in.
This is the paradox of our times: Data suggests that in present day we are far more prosperous than ever before, yet also more depressed. There is more wealth than ever, but we’re less happy than ever. We have technology improving exponentially but we don’t see an increase in our happiness or satisfaction. As shown by research, the most compelling data that we find in regards to why we are unhappy is that our expectations of reality exceed our experiences of reality. It is what Nat Ware, entrepreneur and consultant to non-profits around the world, refers to as the expectation gap. He believes technology plays a huge role in this phenomena. “It makes it far worse,” he says. “It allows things that aren’t even possible to appear realistic. We Photoshop things in, we airbrush things out, we digitally enhance things, creating a skewed vision and distorted reality.”
The advantage of living in these times is the ability to connect to someone on the other side of the world in seconds. The trend of self-driven cars, augmented reality or the possibility of wearing your watch/phone/computer/GPS device on your wrist — it’s wondrous, but the down side is the constant cycle of expectations being raised and hopes being dashed. When we find ourselves comparing our reality to the perceived reality of others, and when we lack a sense of balance or purpose in our lives, we are disappointed, and disappointment leads to unhappiness. We are left meandering and grasping for more, for something to fill our emptiness. It’s impossible to keep up with self-imposed expectations birthed from a presumed reality.
It’s a predicament that everyone at some point is thrust into. The tendency to believe that having more things will make you happy. Having what they have will make you complete. For the religiously inclined, it happens to be a mortal sin: The act of coveting. We might covet some designer brand, some exotic destination, someone’s Adonis physique, or what appears as a perfect and poetic relationship. Even though we may very well intuitively know, as the saying goes, appearances are deceiving and perception is reality.
But fret not. There are tools we can use to free ourselves from this condition. Discipline is a must. Just as we workout to stay fit, eat healthy to maintain our weight, we also need self-mastery to remain centered and grateful. Ralph Waldo Emerson’s quote never gets old, and it’s a good one to keep on a post-it close to you: “Cultivate the habit of being grateful for every good thing that comes to you, and to give thanks continuously.”
It’s also necessary to continue to engage our imagination, all the while keeping our expectations in check. Dr. Amit Sood, a Professor of Medicine at the Mayo Clinic asserts that there are neuro-predispositions that sabotage us. “Our brain is a giant network of 60 to 90 billion neurons,” he says. “This circuitry collaborates to create two modes of the brain, the Wandering Mode and the Focused Mode.” What’s more, the first mode repeats irrelevant information as if in a loop. It’s our default mode. The mind wanders from thought to thought. It’s those moments when you’re reading a book and realize you’ve paid no attention to what you just read. We spend 50% to 80% of the day in that state. He continues: “The focused mode of the brain is alert, and engaged. It’s when you’re processing something interesting, something novel, something meaningful…our brain loves being in this mode but we don’t give ourselves enough of that.”
In short, when we allow our brain to spend more time in the wandering mode, we self-sabotage. We strangle the potential out of it. We welcome disarray and disorder — spending time on thoughts that serve us no purpose. This is where we can bring in new practices to dupe the brain. Yes, you need to con your own brain back into focus mode, where it’s more productive and working for your benefit.
So how do you accomplish this? Meditation is a potential remedy, as is keeping a gratitude journal and taking up activities that keep you focused in the moment. By doing this, your pesky brain has no time to amble around if you’re about to, for example, dive into the ocean during a diving course, are biking a couple of miles as part of your cycling club, or when you’ve set a goal of reading a certain amount of books per month. An active and engaged mind isn’t idle — it won’t squander time creeping on social media and gloating over what they might, or might not have.
In the end, we need to take happiness seriously…and we must stay vigilant over our thoughts. If we improve contentment — for who we are, what we have, how we’re spending our time — the outcome is happiness. Once we realize that nurturing our bliss is a daily discipline, we reach humanly nirvana, in the Earthly sense, while we are alive. For one thing, I’m now going to practice what I preach and head downstairs and stroll a few blocks over from my accommodations to the famed Blue Lagoon. Cold or not, I want to cherish the moment, and be grateful for the gift of being in Iceland. Not everyone is as lucky or fortunate or even blessed as I am in this very moment. And that’s all I can do, live in the now and enjoy every second. True happiness is just over the horizon — and much closer than you think.