I’ll make time to relax when things settle down at work. I’ll wear that outfit when I’ve lost some weight. I’ll invite my friends over when I buy a bigger house. I’ll be happy when it’s Friday, or when I fall in love, or when I get my dream job.
Sound familiar? Of course it does! We’re all guilty of falling victim to “I’ll be happy when” syndrome. But why do we delay happiness until the ‘big thing’ we’re waiting for happens? Even when we achieve the ‘big thing’, we always find something else to chase, and the goalposts for happiness keep moving.
If we’re not careful, our whole life could be “I’ll be happy when”. So how can we stop tying our happiness to a target and enjoy the life we’re living now?
We hope these tips help if you’re stuck in the trap of putting your happiness on hold.
Rethink your definition of happiness
What does happiness look like to you? Is it something you seek, or something you are? Is it conditional or unconditional?
Conditional happiness is when you need to meet a condition in order to be happy. This is where the dreaded “I'll be happy when” and “I’d be happy if” come in. It’s normal for material comforts and significant achievements to cause a spike in our happiness. But the problem is, this type of happiness is fleeting.
The temporary increase in happiness we feel when we get the pay rise, buy the car, or go on the trip eventually fades away and we’re back to where we were, wishing for the next big thing to make us happy.
It’s not to say you shouldn’t have goals. You’re allowed to want more. You can still be driven and have goals for self-improvement, but it’s important that you don’t get stuck in the mindset of thinking you’re not happy until you’ve reached those goals. It’s cliché, but happiness isn’t a destination, it’s a journey – and you can be happy with what you have while you work toward what you want.
Unconditional happiness means you’re happy regardless of external factors or what’s happening in your life. This doesn’t mean always being happy and never being upset. It’s normal to be disappointed or frustrated when things don’t go our way. But this enduring happiness allows us to be content and at peace through life’s ups and downs, and isn’t tied to achieving a certain outcome.
So again: What does real happiness look like to you? It might be having a sense of meaning and purpose in your life, a feeling of belonging with the people you love, or helping those who can’t help themselves.
Think about the times you’ve felt happy, what you were doing, where you were, who you were with, and recreate those feelings as much as possible.
Count your blessings
Remember when you wanted the things you have now?
No matter where you are in life, there are bound to be small things you can be grateful for. Try to check in daily and remind yourself of the good you’ve already got. We all have bad days, but there is some good in every day. Gratitude isn’t just great for our mood – it has plenty of other significant scientifically proven benefits, such as reducing depression and improving our physical health. If you can’t find things to be grateful for, create them. Business Insider Australia interviewed 21 billionaires to determine what happiness looks like to them.
They found that billionaires “regularly practise habits that breed happiness”. It turns out billionaires still appreciate and get happiness from the simple things in life, such as practising optimism, taking care of their health, giving back, and growing their own vegetables.
Be like the billionaires. Find small things you can do to actively nurture your happiness every day.
Avoid “all or nothing” thinking
Give yourself permission to make the most of your current circumstances while you work toward bigger things, because an all-or-nothing mindset can delay our quality of life.
For example, some people love being the host. Nothing makes them happier than being surrounded by loved ones, offering homemade snacks and a carefully selected playlist. If you live in a small rental, you may not be able to throw the grand events you dream of having when you have a larger home. But you can still host smaller gatherings and enjoy the happiness that comes with them.
The same goes for many things. You might be waiting for a pay rise to finally invest in a whole new wardrobe. Instead of denying yourself new clothes and feeling resentful, why not treat yourself to a couple of new pieces in the meantime? If you’re delaying making self-care a priority until work settles down, try dedicating just 20 minutes a day to meditating, calling a friend, reading, or watching funny dog videos (or whatever you’re into).
Stop sabotaging yourself and start doing what you can to make yourself happy now.
If you’re having a tough time finding happiness, talking to a counsellor can help. You can learn about our counselling services here, or call 1300 364 277 to book a session over the phone, over Zoom video chat, or in person.