Getting What You Want, and Still Asking ‘Is This It?’

A woman rests her chin on her hands, looking sad and deep in thought. Imagine a nice summer day: the breeze floats in, and there’s a wonderful scent in the air, the scent of BBQs and jasmine, the sound of children laughing, someone’s lawnmower on for hours, and that’s okay because it’s summer. And, yet, even in the midst of such gloriousness, there can be a feeling I hear from people which I call, “Is this it?” It’s the same feeling that might accompany middle age when you’re feeling uncertain or unclear about what you want from your life and you feel a little lost or a little numb. It can occur in moments between closeness in a relationship, or even after the joy of an entrancing movie or delicious meal. And this moment, this feeling of “Is this it?” can cause stress. In fact, it is stress. It’s a moment of “Is this all there is to life?”

Have you ever had this feeling? It can come after good things happen, a great meal after the 4th of July or while lounging with friends, and all of a sudden: boom! The feeling emerges as restlessness. It may arise after buying a home or having a child—gasp—yes, even after a long-awaited and longed for event. It can occur after you expect one thing and what you get, perhaps a raise or a good grade, is less than what you’d expected. Yet, this feeling is life. It is life when we crave things, long for something, or want things to be different. In fact, Sufis suggest that this thirst for what you want actually allows you to know more about what you want to bring into your life.

It is also life to feel the restless want, the “nothing is exactly what I want right now” feeling, especially after achieving something you’ve wanted for a while (Pychyl, as cited by Johnson, 2012). The bind is, in order to have what you want and move toward your dreams, you have to know yourself. Otherwise, you end up procrastinating.

But, as you make changes, including moving toward your goals, your feelings about yourself and the world can change.

Changes also create new waves of emotion (Johnson, 2012). It’s impossible to keep that intense, happy feeling going. But, it doesn’t mean that you won’t experience the high again.

For those of you who feel you need to do something to change the “Is this it?” feeling, I recommend three simple steps:

  1. Identify the feeling (Are you blah, bored, sad, frustrated, mad?)
  2. Accept it, knowing that it is temporary and extremely human.
  3. Bring yourself into the present moment by focusing on your senses (e.g. Where are you? What are you smelling, tasting, seeing, touching, or hearing? Focus on one sense and breathe! ). Tip: Focusing on your senses increases embodiment and allows for more awareness, openness, and appreciation of the present moment.

 Above all, be kind to yourself. This moment will pass.

And, for those who want a great new book on understanding and achieving your dreams, I highly recommend Harvard Business Review Blogger, Whitney Johnson’s new book, which was published in May 2012, called Dare, Dream, Do: Remarkable Things Happen When You Dare to Dream.

© Copyright 2012 All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Heather Schwartz, PsyD

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Nick

    July 17th, 2012 at 12:06 PM

    I have hit this moment a few times in my life already. . . and I am nowhere NEAR middle age! I think that what it is is that you work so hard to be a success and then when you finally reach that goal, you wonder how much you gave up to get to this point that really doesn’t feel all that rewarding at all. It’s sad when you feel that way. after you have worked so darn hard to get there, but somewhere along the way we lose that appreciation for even being here and being able to experience life in the way that we do.

  • michale staley

    July 17th, 2012 at 2:32 PM

    What is this? feelings of wistfulness and regret? I can’t live like this. I try to enjoy every moment that has been given to me instead of always hoping that there is something more, something better just around the corner. I know that if I spend too much time looking out for what may lie ahead then that tends to take away the apprecation that I have for what I am given in the here and now. We take our time for granted, assuming that we will be given another day to have something even bigger and better. That is not a guarantee. So why not enjoy what you have been given today and and appreciate living in the moment?

  • m.hunt

    July 18th, 2012 at 12:19 AM

    have never had this feeling.I’m only 22 but really,I hope this never comes into my head.I never have high expectations about anything and maybe that is why I do not have this question in my mind. it is better this way anyway because having that question in your mind seems like it can spoil a beautiful moment that you were looking forward to for a long time.

  • Shannon

    July 18th, 2012 at 4:14 AM

    Sometimes we get a little too ahead of the game. I agree that taking the time to really think about what is going on in your life can be a good way to overcome this feeling that you may be having.

    Are you bored with life, or just maybe your job? Are you overall unhappy or displeased or is it just with one particualr aspect of life that is stumping you?

    It is easy to point the finger of blame and just be dissatisfied with everything, but more than likely there is one root cause and if you are able to signal that exact one, life is going to feel a whole lot more bearable.

  • Dr. Heather Schwartz

    July 18th, 2012 at 9:05 AM

    Nick, that’s a great point about reaching a success and having this feeling. And, you don’t have to be nearing middle age! Michale and M, it is about enjoying beautiful moments and also dealing with boredom and malaise. Shannon, it’s true; it is easy to point the blame, and the trick is to cope with the feelings from the inside and realize that no one is to blame. We all have a myriad of feelings and experiences, and that’s life. Thanks for all your comments!

  • Anonymous

    May 12th, 2013 at 5:17 PM

    So I moved into my first apartment at age 31, with a great job & no debt. No intention or desire to have kids or buy a home (and the cost of either puts both completely out of reach. My diesel car will outlive me. So now what? I have all I need, striving for more won’t make me happier. Over 20% of my paycheck automatically goes into savings before any reaches my checkbook. Animal sanctuaries get large donations every month.
    Already did the skydiving & scubadiving. Volunteering is just another job (and I have no desire to fold fundraising brochures).
    Where I’m at is directly related to delayed-gratification and self denial. So now that I’ve “arrived” at age 36, what now?
    Work till death, obviously (my generation’s never seeing Social Security) and hopefully my salary will stay ahead of rent.
    Is this the point? The entire point? What’s the point of self-denial, to then tread water for the next fifty years?
    I feel buried alive.

  • Dr. Heather Schwartz

    May 13th, 2013 at 11:25 AM

    Anonymous, I’m so sorry to hear about the feeling of being buried alive you’re having. I think we try to DO the right things to FEEL better, but ultimately, it’s hard to find the balance between doing and being. Doing what we think we should and being who we are. My questions to you are: What gives your life meaning and purpose? What makes you feel alive AND centered? Since this is a blog and not therapy, I can’t provide therapy here. I’d suggest reaching out and connecting with a therapist in your city to engage these questions. Connection and creating meaning, in my perspective, are at the heart of creating a joyful life. I wish you all the best! Heather

  • Anonymous

    July 14th, 2015 at 6:20 PM

    “What gives your life meaning and purpose?”
    Nothing. I’m just going through the motions. Staying alive.

    “What makes you feel alive AND centered?”
    I have no idea. I haven’t felt alive or centered in years.

    I’ve tried numerous therapists. Even after years in session, I have no idea if anything is happening or if I’m improving.

    My apologies for being a downer.

  • Clayton

    November 30th, 2013 at 4:09 PM

    Funny! I am 49, I have the 3.5 million house, a 2014Mercedes and Range rover, 10 kids, was married 7 times, own several business and lived most of my life in the Caribbean; just bought a home in Arizona. Now life has been kind… I blame no one for my short falls. My relationship, nothing!!! After having all the material things, relationships, multitude of sex, traveling… Etc….. I wake up each day giving God thanks for it all…. I still ask the question (Is This It!)

    Look I volunteer, go to church every, sunday… I love The Lord! But there has to be more to life and why we were born than this.

  • Heather Schwartz

    December 2nd, 2013 at 8:40 PM

    Clayton, isn’t it amazing how the material world — no matter how wonderful — can’t supply us with the fullest experience of life? Of course, everyone has times when we feel that something is lacking in our lives. You mention religion. That’s a wonderful source of richness. Is there a way to integrate what you experience at church more into your life?

  • Heather Schwartz

    July 15th, 2015 at 7:13 AM

    Dear Anonymous,
    No need to apologize. Everyone has times like this, and if changes aren’t made, moments become years.
    It sounds like you have nothing to gauge whether therapy is working or not, and, if you can’t tell if anything is happening, it may not be! Therapy, on its own, without your collaboration is not really helpful, in my opinion. Have you spoken with your therapist about your feelings? Do you have the kind of connection in therapy that allows for this? The most important aspect of therapy is the connection with you and your therapist. Trust and openness are key. Second to that, I would add, is a feeling that you’re doing this project (on your life) together, and that you have some control over the outcome. That includes how much you participate. Motivation is really important. If you’re feeling empty, “just going through the motions,” it might be depression or numbness from something hard in the past. I can’t make a diagnosis, and am not trying to, but it sounds like a hard way to live! It’s great you’re realizing this. There can be a feeling that you’re never going to feel different. Have you? Have you ever felt different? If so, what was going on in your life that was different? How were YOU different? People who are depressed often have an external locus of control for negative events, meaning they think that good things in their lives were luck, and an internal locus of control for hard things, meaning that it feels like bad circumstances are their fault. I would recommend talking to someone with whom you feel a connection, describing this feeling of “not feeling alive,” as you have here on this board, and seeing what’s possible. Being in person is essential. Another option is to get involved in activities which bring a greater sense of aliveness and embodiment, (such as cycling, yoga, being in nature, mindful awareness – Rick Hansen has a great website and book on this Called, Buddha’s Brain). Activating your body helps calm and enliven your mind. Or, you can try activities which you remember enjoying when you were feeling more yourself: more grounded, centered and alive. Good luck and best to you!

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