I'll be happy when...
How to not miss out on your life
Reference: Jamel Shabazz, Flying High, Brownsville, Brooklyn, 1982.
Good afternoon. How are we?
Last week I met with a friend who has a life that could evoke envy. When I asked him how he was doing, he responded “I’m alright, I’ll be happy once I get through these next few stressful months”. This got me thinking about conditional happiness, and the trap that can occur when attaching happiness to a milestone or timepoint in the future. So often we are focused on what we don’t have or chasing what’s next that we disengage with the present. Of course wanting things and planning for the future can be a useful thing, but to rely on external forces or certain achievements for peace of mind can leave us on a hamster wheel of discontent. Conditional happiness can look like this:
I’ll be happy when I get a new job / make more money
My life will be better when I meet a partner
I’ll like myself more when I lose weight
Things will be good once I’m on holiday
Once I’ve spoken with them, I’ll have closure and can move on
This is something I see a lot in clinical work, and also in my own life. I have this belief that if I were to live in New York (a place I’ve visited once for 4 days in 2011) I would be a better, more successful version of myself. At a micro-level I even notice my sense of joy can be conditional on when I have a delivery arriving. I can find myself thinking “I’ll be happy on Thursday when my clothes order arrives because I will have the things I want then”. What a sad little life!
So I’m interested
What is your “I’ll be happy when….” ?
What do you think it will give you if you get that thing?
How will you be different?
What parts of yourself are you expecting to change?
My favourite author on this topic is the Psychoanalyst Susie Orbach, who was Princess Diana’s therapist. In her book “On Eating” she speaks about this in relation to weight, but it relates to all forms of conditional happiness:
Make a list of what you imagine would be different once you get that thing (losing weight, a promotion, a partner, moving house etc…)
Imagine what it would be like if you were to achieve it? If you are imagining yourself as a different person, what aspects of you are different? Could you access that part of you now?
Will you be more outgoing, attractive, desirable, confident, relaxed?
Try enhancing those wanted aspects of you now. They aren’t inherently to do with achieving that milestone. Get to know the parts of you waiting in the wings, make them part of who you are now, whatever your situation. Practice and develop those neglected parts of you that you’ve put on hold until you achieve that thing.
As Orbach says, don’t miss out on your life until you think you are the ‘right’ size. You don’t have to wait for happiness or earn it, pockets of pleasure can be found in the present.
See you soon,
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