A Thought Experiment for Happiness: What If Nothing Every Changed?


It sounds grim, but asking yourself the question can be liberating

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When x, then y. When x, then y. When x, then y. We repeat this formula ad nauseam.

“When he’s impeached, I’ll stop doomscrolling.”

“When the kids go back to school, I’ll finally focus on this creative project.”

“When I’m able to see my friends in person, I’ll stop feeling so isolated.”

We spend a lot of time dreaming about the arrival of some specific future that would surely, definitely change everything for us… won’t it? During the Trump era, I kept imagining the day he was out of office so that things could finally begin to shift in my life. But as I waited in discontentment, I was struck by a thought experiment: What if nothing ever changed?

I know this sounds a little depressing, but stick with me. I promise you that asking yourself this question can be as life-affirming for you as it was for me.

What if nothing in your life ever changed from this exact moment?

What if you always had this job?

What if you always had this body at its exact shape and weight?

What if you’re forever stuck in the home you’re living in right now?

What if you were never able to travel again?

What if you always made this amount of money?

What if this person in your life remained exactly the way they are?

How then would you find happiness?

Before I continue, I must say that we should never apply this exercise to issues of abuse, racism, economic inequality, and other oppressive and dangerous systems or situations. Those things must change, and it is critical that we imagine a world in which they can and will.

But we make so much of our happiness conditional on other events, chasing an idealized state that may never exist. As a recovering perfectionist, I understand this deeply. My eyes were always focused on the next big thing. I began to imagine myself like a pinball: I’d move fast but feel hollow, banged about by circumstances that were outside of myself.

Asking myself “What if everything in my life stayed exactly the same?” has helped me be more present for the unfolding joy of what is, not what I think it should or could be. I hope this question inspires you to reflect on what is here for you right now and stop waiting for circumstances to change before you do the thing. You know, that thing. The thing that only you have the power to do.

Because what if nothing ever changed? And what if fully stepping into that question actually allowed you to have everything you really need?

And what if fully stepping into that question actually allowed you everything you needed?



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