We’ve all heard it. Most of us have said it. Some variation of a statement that puts a hold on our happiness (or our worth, peace of mind, relaxation, willingness to try something new, etc.) until a certain point in time or goal is reached. 

For example:

  • “I’ll be happy and finally know I’m good enough (worth) once I get this promotion.”
  • “I’ll be happy and able to start putting myself out there more once I lose the weight.”
  • “I will be happy and start working more on my anxiety once we have our debt paid off.”
  • “I will be happy and feel better about myself once I make some new friends.”
  • “I’ll be happy and can relax once my kids are back in school and I can have some down time.”
  • “I will be happy and know that people like me once I get 1000 followers on Instagram.”
  • “I will be happy and “____(fill in the blank)_____ once ____(fill in the blank)____.”

The Problems with Putting Your Happiness on Hold

If you can fill in any of the above blanks, it may be time to change your thinking. Here’s why. Yes, setting goals can be motivating and help us step outside of our comfort zone or help us progress in life. However, basing your happiness or worth on something in the future–or a goal you have yet to reach–has various negative effects.

Takes Away Positivity

It takes away from your ability or aptitude to appreciate the positive things in your life now. If you’re too future focused, you miss out on the present. Yes, it might be wonderful if you got your baby to sleep through the night. But rather than taking the pessimistic perspective, try to appreciate the blessings and find the silver lining. Like the bonding time, or your superhero ability to function–even if not as efficiently–on little-to-no sleep. Don’t be hyper-focused on graduating from college or getting that next promotion unless you want to be miserable every day until that point. Instead, make a pointed effort to find ways to enjoy and appreciate today.

Subpar Life

It dooms you to the perception that your life is subpar and that a new accomplishment or an elusive future is your key to happiness. However, our ‘happiness goal setting’ mindset typically does not change once we’ve reached a goal. Instead, we find ourselves perpetually one step away from happiness.

Ask yourself: will your life be better and problems solved with more money, less weight or more likes on Instagram? It may seem obvious that it would be. But in reality, once we reach a goal or ideal, we tend to find something else in ourselves, or in our lives, that is lacking or could still be improved. Most often, when we reach our “happiness” goal, we pat ourselves on the back briefly, and then find another area of ourselves or our lives that is lacking. Then we set another “happiness” goal which results in happiness always being one-step away in our lives. And that can lead us to feel that we are never enough.

Maybe you finally ran that 5k, but now start thinking, “Well Susie Q ran a marathon. I should at least be able to do a half marathon. Then I will be happy with my running ability.” A dieter might think she will be happy once she loses 10 pounds, but then realizes that five more pounds might be better, then that she also needs to be more toned, then that maybe she is too toned, or needs to be more tan, or have less wrinkles. It eventually feels like a never ending cycle of wanting to be better. When in reality you are wonderful just as you are.

Yes, set goals and try new things. But know that these things will not make you love yourself. Or be the answer to your happiness. You are in control of your own happiness, and truly happy people do not find that happiness after they’ve accomplished one more thing. They find it now!

Comparing Yourself

Not being able to find happiness now is often a result of comparing yourself to others or yourself at a very different time in your life. This statement may have become obvious with the previous examples; however, it’s important to emphasize. Trying to set a goal that is completely isolated, in that it is not dependent on a comparison, is rare. Typically, we observe someone else doing better than we are and have a desire to be like them; anything short of that goal seems like a failure. Similarly, we often find ourselves disappointed that we are not doing something that we used to at a very different time in our lives.

For example, maybe you used to wake up early in college and have a very productive morning. Maybe you used to play sports and were fit. Or maybe you used to have an easier time making friends and having social time. While it’s easy to be hard on yourself for not for 

not doing something you once did, you’ve got to give yourself a break and consider your current circumstances and priorities. Maybe you have a more demanding job, maybe you have kids. Maybe you have different responsibilities, or maybe you’re human and just getting older. As hard as it might be to do, remind yourself that you do not have more or less worth than anyone else. Or yourself at a different time. And find a way to be happy with yourself now.

Happiness is a state of mind or a way of  being. While the way we live our lives can greatly impact our happiness, it is almost never dependent on one thing. So stop waiting for the key to happiness to show up at your door and start finding happiness in your present circumstance.

Remember, “Happiness–not in another place, but this place. Not for another hour, but this hour.” -Walt Whitman