Don't Go Changing

You have a good life -- or at least you thought you did. That was before your friend announced she got a hot new job, with stock options. Or the people next door moved to a more-upscale neighborhood. Soon you're wondering if you should be scanning the job listings. And why does your home suddenly feel a little -- small? It's a fast-moving world, and we all feel the pressure to keep pace.

"We're moving so fast, we don't have time to think. We just react to life around us," asserts Beth Rothenberg, a professional business coach and lifestyle consultant in Los Angeles. "And what happens to many who charge ahead without thinking is one day they realize, 'I have more money, a bigger house, but I'm not happy.'"

With so many direct and indirect messages to improve our jobs, our homes, and our lives from gurus, books, relatives and even our own demanding selves, how do we know when to quiet those voices and be content where we are? It's simpler than it may seem. "The key to making choices that will bring you happiness is defining your values," says Rothenberg, "and then weighing whether a decision is in line with those values."

Before you take a bite of any tempting apple, reevaluate what's truly important to you, says Rothenberg. Once you've defined your requirements for an enriched life, you'll be able to separate the derring-do from the dumb. And the next time a ship seems to be passing you by, you might be happy simply waving to whoever's on board.

The keys to your happiness

Before making a change: Write down three or four of your greatest values in life. These should be your guidelines when considering any important change. "If one of your values happens to be working in a creative atmosphere, for example, a job in a noncreative environment, no matter what the payoff, just won't satisfy one of your most vital needs," says Beth Rothenberg. And when your life isn't balanced in a way that's important to you, your overall well-being suffers. Values are highly personal and individual: Yours may include spending as much time as possible with family; making a significant contribution in a chosen field; or having security and ample free time.

Next: Determine why each value is important to you, then consider how you'd feel if you accepted a change that didn't meet that value. Maybe pursuing a degree for a better career will be worth the sacrifice in time and dollars. Or perhaps the house on the hill doesn't look so grand next to the extra hour you'd have to tag onto your commute.

Are you a change-a-holic?

Are you drawn to change for the wrong reasons? Ask yourself.

1. Do you often agree to do something you don't really want to do?

Many people have a hard time saying 'no' to anyone, even when it would be better for their emotional health.

2. Have you ever accepted a job offer to improve your resume or make more money and been miserable in it?

If prestige and money rank high among your values, then such a job might satisfy you. But many people put off happiness, thinking they'll make money now to do what they want later. Unfortunately, "later" sometimes comes too late.

3. Is more time for yourself or your family a value that you have trouble sustaining?

Most people list these among their values. It's important to ask yourself what happens when you're not living these values. Is the trade-off worth it? Could you make a few compromises (cut back a few hours at work or do more errands at lunch) to have the life you want?

4. Have you ever worked hard toward a goal -- and felt disappointed after you achieved it?

Many people respond to rhetoric to set goals, but aren't satisfied once they achieve them. Often, it's because they didn't first consider if their goals met their values.

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