The Difference Between a Fake Happy Future and a Real Happy Life


“Remember that sometimes not getting what you want is a wonderful stroke of luck.” ~Dalai Lama

I used to think I was falling behind. Not on my rent or my taxes, but in life.

One moment, things were progressing fine. I had friends. Good teeth. A boyfriend. I even had my own did-I-really-do-all-that-study-to-be-doing-this first job.

But then it all went away. I became ill. And as the years went by, I watched from my bed as my friends led a version of the life I’d expected for myself.

It was as if everyone had gotten on the bus while I remained in the bus shelter. Which had an interesting smell. And I’d sat in some chewing gum.

But here’s something I’ve learned.

When it seems as if you’re “falling behind,” chances are you’re leaping ahead—not compared to other people, they have their own journey, but compared to your original planned-out trajectory.

A few weeks ago my husband and I were coming home after a sunny week poking around the Baja Peninsula in Mexico. Shortly before we were due to take off, the pilot told us there was a crack in the some-or-rather, the flight was canceled, and please would we return to the terminal.

So there we were, a plane-load of people, some waiting, some proactively making new plans, when out of the blue our name was called and we were rushed onto a direct flight home to Los Angeles.

Our original travel plans had us flying home via San Jose, a four-hour detour. But thanks to our “delay” we arrived home hours ahead of schedule.

It reminded me of when I was sick, because what seemed like such a setback at the time was anything but. In fact, it was one of the great gift bearers of my life, propelling me toward something I hadn’t known existed but am so grateful to have found.

What I thought was the long way turned out to be the short way.

It happens all the time.

I used to live in a small town in New Zealand, and I was always intrigued by the seemingly large number of people who, when asked how they came to live there, said their car broke down while on holiday. It was always the same: as they waited on repairs they took a drive and found the little out-of-the-way town.

Car breakdown. Plane breakdown. Health breakdown. Relationship breakdown. Career breakdown. What seems like an impediment is so often a blessing when you consider the ultimate end result.

What can be upsetting and worrisome is having your plans disrupted. Although, in retrospect, it’s often hilarious to think you knew the way in the first place.

Social conditioning tells us there’s an ideal way for life to progress; it varies depending on your circle of influence. For me it had to do with getting a good job, being active, getting married, going to college. That kind of thing.

And we make plans accordingly. It’s human nature—or at least the nature of our mind to do this.

Yet our plans have nothing to do with being happy now, because that doesn’t need a plan. Plans, by their very nature, are more concerned with the future.

Plans are about future happy. Sometimes a plan is so ingrained it doesn’t even seem like a plan.

“If I get a good job, then I’ll be happy.” Future.

“If I live to be an old lady, that’s the best thing.” Future.

“When I lose weight I’ll feel self assured and confident.” Future.

“If I sail around the world I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment.” Future.

When things “go wrong,” as in not to plan, it causes us pain—sometimes, great pain. And the reason for the pain is it feels as if happiness has been taken away.

If for your whole life you thought that being active or getting a good job and so on was the way to feel happy, of course you feel badly when you can’t do that.

But the pain is in your incorrect beliefs. Happiness hasn’t gone anywhere. If anything, your capacity for happiness is probably growing. All that’s lost is your plan for future happy. But since the future never comes, future happy was never real.

Time and again I meet or hear from people who, in dealing with challenging times, find more real happy. And chances are, if you’re reading this, it’s either happening to you right now or has happened in some way.

Real happy isn’t some, “Wow this is amazing,” kind of feeling, or where everything is easy, but a deeper sense of connectedness—to yourself and others.

Real happy is compassion that comes naturally, even for people you dislike.

Real happy is knowing, deep within you, that everything will be fine; that you can handle whatever comes your way.

Real happy isn’t something that can be taken away either, but builds in increments as you move through life, speeding up during challenging times.

Back then I didn’t know any of this. I just thought my life was worse compared to everyone else. Of course, it was no worse and no better. It just looked different than I expected.

If, by some miracle of time I could speak to me back then, I’d say:

“You simply don’t know how the universe is going to deliver its splendor, but chances are it’ll look different than you thought it would.”

“Sorrow is part of the process; a sign of faulty beliefs being released. Notice your thoughts as they come and go, stand back and let the pain happen if you need to, but know there’s something bigger.”

Knowing me back then, I’d probably still be thinking about my friends and how much I wanted to get back to the real world. (That’s what I used to call it.) So I’d wrap it up by saying:

“It’s easy to look back on your old life as if it were perfect. Or see other people’s life as perfect. But this is an illusion, the same as future happy.”

“See how it feels to have faith in what’s happening now—not in liking it necessarily, but trusting the flow of life.”

My friends got on their bus and I got on mine. They were different buses going different places. These days I try to see time at the “bus stop” as the possibility of a new adventure (and not because I live in L.A!).

And by the way, it wasn’t chewing gum I was sitting on, but a sticky bit of self-esteem I never knew I had. And that interesting smell? Self-acceptance.

Photo by radek postawa

About Lisa Esile

Lisa grew up in New Zealand and now lives in Los Angeles. Lisa and her husband Franco are the authors of WHOSE MIND IS IT ANYWAY: GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD AND INTO YOUR LIFE (Penguin Random House, 2016). You can grab a FREE copy of her book, "The Lazy Person's Guide to Feeling Awesome and Ultimate ALL the time," here!

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  • Esha

    Wow Lisa!!! Your writing and your thoughts always make me smile and nod along fiercely 🙂 I read an article on the same topic a few days back and I couldn’t agree more! This is happening to me! The plans that I had, the ‘me’ I thought I’d be- they haven’t materialized but oh! I feel so much more happier. Even when I feel down, I get right back up. Things register more deeply, things make more sense and I am learning things I never thought I’d do. At least, not in the way I am now! I am learning more and more about myself 😀 And doesn’t that feel awesome?

    It is soooooooo true- Happiness is right here, right now and am soooo happy and content to realize that.

    Thank you so much for this brilliance today 🙂

  • RandyH

    Super amazing article Lisa! I am so glad I woke up to it this morning! I have been working on this train of thought for a while now and you have definitely helped solidify it for me.

  • Tim

    You said it! Life is a mystery. This is the second post of yours that I’ve read, and it seems that you get to some of the root ideas of Buddhism in a practical way. And you have a great writing style. Keep writing your insightful posts and I’ll keep on reading them. Thanks.

  • J

    Wow! Super amazing article! Thank you, I needed this.

  • me

    thank you!!! The perfect message I have been looking for, for a long time.

  • NancyG

    Hi Lisa, great post, makes so much sense! It’s easy for our minds to go ‘off the rails’ with all sorts of negative, scary thoughts…and then you read a post like this and think, “no kidding!” Thank you, and keep up the great work!:)

  • talktherapybiz

    Lisa–Wonderful lesson in the need to slow down. We’re so used to rushing into the future that we miss the signs of the present.

    Self-acceptance is a robust scent, indeed!

  • lv2terp

    VERY COOL!!!! Great perspective, insight, and joy in this post! 🙂 Thank you for sharing your wisdom, I love this….”What can be upsetting and worrisome is having your plans disrupted.
    Although, in retrospect, it’s often hilarious to think you knew the way
    in the first place.”! 🙂

  • From a fellow New Zealander, I love this post! Rings true to the way I now live my life. Being in the flow, knowing everything happens for a reason, seeing the bigger picture, trusting and having faith that everything will come to you when you need it. Much love, Aaron

  • Karla McEvoy

    Love this! I am going to have to remember this article whenever I catch myself getting caught up in chasing “future happy.” Real happy is here right now. Thanks.

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure and thanks for sharing your story too! Cool to hear you’ve had a similar experience. It is funny isn’t it – the plans we have. One of my plans was to be a scientist! Phew! Not that there’s anything wrong with a life of science, just probably not really as much my thing as I once thought it was! 🙂

  • Lisaesile

    Thanks Randy:) Pleased to hear it hit the mark!

  • Lisaesile

    Thanks Tim! Appreciate the kind words. You might enjoy my book … free on my site:)

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure!

  • Lisaesile

    Thank you, too!

  • Lisaesile

    Yes! – super easy for our minds to go off the rails! So much easier when we can see what they’re up to. Then when we spin off a bit it’s not so scary. Thanks so much for your note:)

  • Lisaesile

    Thank you:)

  • Lisaesile

    Hey Aaron from New Zealand! Thanks for saying hi. Always nice to hear from a fellow Kiwi. And best of luck with your endeavors – I had a wee peek at your site earlier!

  • Lisaesile

    You’re welcome!

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure! Thanks for your note:)

  • Razwana

    Lisa! This is great! Happiness is not just some destination that we will arrive at one day and then breath because all the work is done.

    But you’ve nailed the essence of Buddhist philosophy – it’s all happening now. Nowhere else.


  • Esha

    Plans NOT working out teaches one how unexpected life is and if we just allow it to flow, every day is oh-so-delicious! Like right now, am facing a dilemma over a situation and while I am trying to think of solutions and how situations might turn out with each one, I am aware how they aren’t gonna be like that exactly. Maybe just a %. This excites me more! And now when I do make plans, I make them just for today- ‘cuz really, isn’t today the only day when we are alive?? 🙂 If that’s sorted out, the rest can take care of itself!

  • Linda

    I think this is just another way of saying God has a plan for us. We may have a different idea but He has another and what He wants to happen in your life will happen. He wants us to have a happy life. But He also gave us free will to choose. If we go off His path He will pull us the way we should go.

  • true!

    The Difference Between a Fake Happy Future and a Real Happy Life. the people usually this think

  • David Goettsch

    Amazing article, I found myself in the same state of mind when I tore my knee and was out of commission for 6 months. The more I learn, the more I realize that happiness is really just a matter of perspective. It always breaks down to how you view things that determines so much in your life. Thanks for sharing I really liked reading this piece!

    Dave @personalgrowthproject

  • Denise Dare

    Totally appreciate this, Lisa!

    I love your lines: Real happy is compassion…knowing that everything will be fine.

    Thank you for sharing this inspiration!

    Peace, Love & Happiness,

    Denise 🙂

  • Amy

    Wow, I’m printing this article and I’m going to carry it in my purse to pull out whenever I want to dwell on future happy! Over the last few years I’ve had my life plans totally turned up-side down by some not so good things (infertility, husband getting addicted to pain killers, separation from husband, lay-offs). It has taken lots of work, but today I can look at each of those events and see the purpose for each one. The infertility led me to an amazing group of friends and eventually a son who if we hadn’t struggled for years wouldn’t be the child we have. The addiction and separation were what caused me to work on myself and led me to the realization that I have an amazing life even if it isn’t the one I planned. The 2 lay-offs led me to different jobs that actually have furthered my career. So, as a planner by nature and by occupation it was so hard to have my life go so terribly off my planned path. Now I try to live in the moment. I try to remember that whatever things are going on have a purpose and that letting go of my idea of how the future should be will make room for better things than I could have dreamed of.

  • Lisaesile

    Hi Amy, Thanks so much for your note and how wonderful to hear your story! You put it so well yourself:) Best wishes!!

  • Lisaesile

    My pleasure!

  • alleykat_

    Loved this! thank you and much love to you 😀

  • Rich Hernandez

    Thank you Lisa.Very well put.

  • Akshay

    brilliant!!.. as always… and very rightly said ” pain is in your incorrect belief “.

    Yes! We feel vulnerable when things not go on the way as we planned. Thanks for such a great article and accolades for what you and your team is doing.


  • RandyH

    Good morning, Lisa. 17 days later and I have to comment on this terrific article again! Still just as powerful as the first time I read it…thanks again!

  • Joan Silva

    As always, Lisa, very enjoyable and helpful. Thank you!

  • Glad to say I think I fit your description of realy happy. 🙂

  • Martin Xiong

    Too true. We’re so in-depth with the prospective sensations of familiarity, namely expectations and pass-or-fail trials, that we can’t understand we’re already deep under an ocean of sorts. I definitely didn’t see it. And I’m ‘Christian’ in the non-general sense. Even God-fearing professors of faith in the cliche unity of branches unintentionally laced ‘expectedness’ into their sermons of righteous perseverence. But even they were flabbergasted when things didn’t go according to plan.
    Thanka for your thoughts. As unwonted as it is to grudgingly agree or even vehemently disagree, I thoroughly enjoyed your view on this. My thoughts resonate exactly with yours.
    Cause shit does happen. And if we’re prepared for it even? Life still hurts either way. But when we don’t expect it at all, we strangely enough develop that ethereal tug of reality on our hearts asking us which road we’d rather take. “The short and unmoving road where you sit back in bitterness and misery?”, or “The road where it hurts like hell to get up, dust yourself off, and continue along the none-too-smooth bumps riddling the rightly hard and lengthy distance, all the while believing in what you tell yourself: ‘It really WILL be okay.'”
    Thank you. Your post is the BOMB. Really encouraging to know one is not alone in their experiences of ephemeral assurity on failures. Reading all the replies, I too know now that failures are just tweaked experiences of strange and awkward successes.

  • Giacomo Reggente

    Love it! Shared it! Thanks Lisa! Peace!

  • ericaled

    I absolutely needed this today. Thanks so much.

  • Sonia Bralic

    sooooooo true!

  • Pat Law

    how can I get your ebook? I have a new computer and the ebook didn’t make it to my new one 🙁

  • Andrea Twinkles Muro

    I am 49 years old and this article rings very true for me. I am very good at letting go of the plans I made and then going on the adventure but I did feel sorrow over those plans that did not come to fruition. I often long for the happily ever after scenario, but it is the prefabricated kind. When I look back, the universe has often surprised me with better gifts than I can imagine and it knows what I needed better than I do. At my age I am single and it’s difficult to accept at times but when I speak to some of my married friends they are longing for single life.