Charlene called me and described the misery of her life: bad marriage, difficult children, and much more. After I had responded to her for several minutes, she repeated how unhappy she was and said, "I really can't stand this anymore. I want to change."
"No," I said, "you really don't."
Surprised and somewhat irritated, she said, "How can you say that?"
"I have absolutely no reason to criticize you, my dear, and you can do whatever you want, but for fifteen minutes straight you have argued with every single sentence I've spoken. Every one. You haven't heard a word—kind of impressive consistency, actually. Every time I've spoken, your next word has been No or But."
"No, it hasn't," she said.
I couldn't help smiling.
Most of us want our lives to improve. But what we really want is simply to be in a happier condition. We'd love to BE physically fit, but we're not willing to exercise. We'd like to BE healthier, but we won't change what we eat. We'd love to see the view from the top of Mount Everest, but we're not willing to embrace the mind-numbing preparation and back-breaking exertion required to get there. In short, there are many things we say we want, but our words don't mean much. We demonstrate what we really want by what we DO.
Every day people tell me—in various ways—how they want to be happier, but then they vigorously defend how they've always thought, felt, and behaved. We simply CANNOT continue to live as we always have, however, and reasonably hope to become happier. It's impossible. If we continue in our old ways—regardless of how brilliant our reasons for them are—we'll keep getting the same results.
For most of us, saying that we want to change becomes a very harmful form of self-deception. With our words we convince ourselves that we really DO want to change, when the truth is that we only want greater happiness to magically descend upon us, without our doing anything different—like wanting to be physically fit while lying on the couch eating junk food.
If we REALLY want to become happier, we must be willing to actually change what we believe to be true, after which our feelings and behavior tend to follow. That usually requires that we thoroughly trust the guidance of someone who already lives differently from us and demonstrates a capacity for genuine happiness. And thus we reveal what we truly want.