You’ve likely heard the familiar phrase, “You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” It’s often used when faced with two desirable alternatives that cannot coexist. For instance, you can’t go on vacation and be homebound, or you can’t paint the living room sea green and keep the original Victorian wallpaper.
These are simple examples, but the dilemmas we face are often more complex: you can’t get married and retain your single status; you can’t move to a new city and work in the same office; you can’t cut out sugar from your diet and binge on sweets every night.
While we may not always be able to achieve the best of both worlds, I’d like to propose another option: you can have your cake and enjoy it too.
Instead of focusing on what you stand to lose, why not shift your attention to what you stand to gain? We spend so much of our energy thinking about the cake we’re not eating that we’re unable to enjoy the one on the plate right in front of us.
When we focus our efforts on savoring what we already have, we become more awake to:
Our inner selves: we learn what makes us feel whole, alive, curious, and open. We get to know our passions and strengths, and tap into opportunities to share them with others.
Our potential for growth: in order to expand, we must first recognize the possibilities that lie within our present circumstances and surroundings. A scarcity mindset does not foster forward motion. An abundance mindset, on the other hand, allows you to see what could be with what you’ve been given. Want to run more, improve your work performance, or travel the globe? Start where you are.
The present moment: tuning into the present is a skill that requires patience and deliberation. In doing so, we come to see that many of our worries never come to fruition and we’re better off paying attention to what’s before us. When your mind gets carried away fretting about the future or ruminating on the past, tune into your surroundings and ask yourself, “What’s true for me right now?”
How far we’ve come: you might not have everything you desire, and there are likely big areas of your life that need work. But consider what you’ve accomplished that was once just a faint hope, a slight chance, a pipe dream, or an unborn idea. Your life now is not the same as it was 5 years ago nor how it will be 5 years in the future. While there likely have been some zigs and zags, don’t discount the progress you’ve made toward becoming the self you hope to be and designing the reality you long for.
Life’s natural ebbs and flows: joy and sorrow comes and goes, despite our attempts to cling tightly to what makes us feel good and escape from big emotions like anger, fear, and sadness. Being aware of these larger patterns can help us keep perspective during low moments and appreciate fleeting highs in their abundance. Pay attention to how your mood might change over the course of a day, and remember that how you feel now is not always predictive of how you’ll feel later.
Enjoying what we have can be difficult, particularly when our sights are set on something better. But the “better” we imagine often falls short of the vision we’ve created in our minds: one that fails to account for unpredictable obstacles, conditions outside of our control, and our natural tendency to adjust to changes in circumstances.
Better is temporary and one day will no longer be considered enough. When you live with this in mind, it’s easier to appreciate the simple joys that are always available to you. Have your cake and enjoy it too, right now, in all its glory.