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Real Joy, Right Now

Do you often hear yourself saying, "When such and such happens, then I'll be happy"? Why wait for happiness when it's available to you right now, at this moment?

By Sally Kempton

Step Five: Know Your Authentic Self

As his job opportunities dissolved in the distance, Joel finally began to ask himself what message he was supposed to be getting. Part of his experience, he realized, was about learning financial discipline—it was time for him to discover how to make do with less. But when he asked what the deeper lesson might be, he saw that he really wasn't right for any of the jobs he was seeking, that he really didn't want them. As much as he might want the security and perks of a corporate job, he didn't like working in the corporate culture.

Joel had always known he wanted to write serious fiction. In his early 20s, however, he'd decided that this was economically unrealistic, so he had given it up. But now, with his life's work crumbling in his hands, he saw how much of his life had been spent in conflict between what he really wanted to do and what he thought he was supposed to do. The current crisis was demanding that Joel begin acting in alignment with his deeper dreams. So he decided to start writing a novel.

"Just committing myself to writing changed everything," he says. "Once I was no longer at cross-purposes with myself, everything else started to fall into place. I realized that my day job also needed to be something I found meaningful—that nothing would work for me otherwise."

Joel is still working on his novel and has found work as an executive coach and traveling conference monitor, which enables him to pay the bills. His family is not yet in the clear financially, and he's frustrated that his travel schedule leaves little time for writing. But knowing that his novel awaits him whenever he can find the time, he enjoys his day job more. He feels content with himself, a writer.

Joel's story exemplifies a truth we all know (and often ignore): that lasting contentment can come only when we are being our authentic selves. This, I find, is nearly always the real message behind our feelings of dissatisfaction.

In order to move toward a state of sustained contentment, Joel had to settle a few fundamental questions—ones that all of us can ask ourselves: "Am I living my own life, the life that expresses who I authentically am? Or am I simply living the way my culture and family and the people around me think I should be living? What do I need to do and who do I need to be to feel authentically myself?" If you ask yourself these questions and listen for the answers, surprising shifts will occur. And these shifts will hold the clues to your personal path to contentment.

Not everyone gets to choose his or her means of livelihood. Yet each of us can find ways to authentically express and nurture our personal strengths and gifts—the qualities of character that belong to our essential being. You'll know that you've found this authentic expression when you feel most deeply aligned with yourself; you'll know you haven't when you feel off-kilter.

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Reader Comments

joan kushner

why do you think that taking prozac gives one 'contenment'? it's simply not true.

shirley knudsen

Tjhank you for giving me some hope with your amazing article "Real Joy Right Now".
I am in a terribly dark place right now .Instead of my boys leaving "the nest" I had to leave my 3 teenage sons to follow my husband up the "corporate ladder to another town 200 miles away. Having just arrived my mother died suddenly of a heart attack, my brother died shortly after of bowel cancer and a short time my husband was out on his mountain bike and had a massive heart attack and died instantly. I didn't even get to say "good-bye to him". My 3 sons all live far away and I feel very alone.
I will work through what you have written and thank you once again for giving me hope.

Shirley Knudsen


What a fitting article. I claimed bankruptcy and lost my job all in one year and I am about to go on social assistance, if I qualify. As weird as it sounds, I am even afraid to say I am at peace. It is as if the universe gave me an opportunity to start over again and this time to make things right. I feel a sense of contentment at the moment, however, can only imagine a small voice in my head saying "how can you be so calm?" I respond to it by saying the universe shall provide.

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