I am particularly concerned about a friend who always seems unhappy at work, complains about how some colleagues are making her life difficult, and how little she earns. She believes that marrying and giving up her job would bring her happiness. She reads books that teach her “10 Ways of Dealing with People Who Make Your Life Miserable”, which is not a very useful category of writings, in my humble opinion. She also believes that an ideal job is one in which she could look forward to going into office every morning.
I think she is suffering because her expectations aren’t realistic. Particularly, I find the state of “always looking forward to” something very dubious. I have only ever looked forward to work probably for the first few months in a job. To me, “looking forward to” something is an extreme emotion that can only last for a short period of time. If I look forward to the weekend, I am probably expecting that I would enjoy every minute of it. There is some amount of indulgence involved in it. If I look forward to lunchtime everyday, it would probably make the rest of my day very tiresome in comparison. Hence constantly “looking forward to” some event is not only impossible to achieve, it also causes more suffering if that event is not what one would expect.
Well, that is my layman’s opinion. I would like to hear about the buddhist view of this. Is “looking forward to” something a realistic feeling that can be sustained in the real world, or even when one is enlightened? Or is it an extreme emotion, not unlike intense passion and attachment, which a Buddhist should avoid?
Many thanks for your response. I hope my question is not too vague to you, as I have not learnt proper buddhist terms to explain it in.
Proper Buddhist Terms? Here? Not necessary at all, and I try to steer away from all the jargon anyway.
I don’t think having hopes and dreams are unrealistic at all. I have them, and I sincerely hope you do too. The problem, from the Buddhist standpoint, is when we get too attached to the dreams and start to avoid reality. If your friend is neglecting the here and now in favor of these hopes for something better in the future, then yes, she’s probably going to regret it someday. We’ve talked before on whether or not it’s OK for Buddhists to make long-term plans and expectations for the future (it is OK, by the way), and this is a related problem.
Buddhists are realists. The simple facts are that the past is gone. Dwelling on the past is unproductive. The future may or may not happen the way we envision it, and there’s no use in getting attached to hopeful outcomes. You are in the present, here and now. NOW is the only time you really have any control over, so make the most of it. NOW is all you really have, so enjoy it, learn from it, do some good with it.
Wasting the Now, thinking about what might be (or could be, or should be, or whatever) is robbing reality to spend on dreams. Work harder to make the reality of the Now a better place.