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5 Tricks to Escape the “I’ll Be Happy When…” Mindset and Find Happiness Today

“I’ll Be Happy When…” Will Never Arrive

The world lost two celebrities to suicide within just three days of each other – Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain. People all over the world were asking how. How could someone with such fame and fortune feel so unhappy? They’d reached their goals! They were living lives the rest of us could only dream of! It’s a reminder that making more money and slaying goals doesn’t always feel as fulfilling as we imagine. Because how many times have we said I’ll be happy when…?

My whens started in high school, when I dreamed of leaving my small hometown to live somewhere huge and exciting. I used to tell myself, “I’ll be happy when I graduate and leave for college.” 

But when I was in college, the line moved. Now it was, “I’ll be happy when I meet someone special.” And somehow…the when kept changing.

I’ll be happy when I’m married.

I’ll be happy when I move somewhere else.

I’ll be happy when we buy a house.

I’ll be happy when I leave this terrible job.

I’ll be happy when I have a child.

I’ll be happy when I finally get back into shape.

I’ll be happy when I launch my own business.

I’ll be happy when we have more money.

The line just keeps moving, doesn’t it? We get what we wanted, realize that it didn’t magically resolve all of our issues and insecurities, and so immediately start reaching for the next when.

How to Escape “I’ll Be Happy When…”

So how do we begin to feel contentment and joy in the moment we’re in, instead of a moment in the future? And how do we avoid placing the weight of our happiness on things that can’t stand up to our expectations?

  1. First, look for the positives right where you are. It’s easy to find and focus on the negatives in any situation. You haven’t slept in three months since your baby was born. Your house is too small. Your job is too stressful. Take a few moments to write down every positive aspect of the situation that you can. You’re bonding with your newborn, setting a foundation of love and trust that will last the rest of your lives. You have a roof over your head, and people you love filling up every room. You’ve secured a steady paycheck, and don’t have to worry about how you’re going to feed your family. As French critic Alphonse Karr once said, “Some people are always grumbling because roses have thorns; I am thankful that thorns have roses.” Your perspective will help to shape your attitude.
  1. Second, make gratitude your first priority every day. The way your day starts will usually determine how it ends. If you wake up focusing on the worst parts of your morning, you’ll continue to feel the effects of negative circumstances all day long. If you begin your day reflecting on your blessings, it will help you to view your entire day through the lens of gratitude. Make it a priority to start each morning in your favor. For practical tips on how to begin each day with gratitude, check out our post How to Become an Optimist.
  1. Third, learn to love and appreciate yourself for who you are right now, rather than who you wish you were. That’s easier said than done, isn’t it? Try taking the same approach as the first point above, focusing on your own positives right where you are. Maybe my clothes fit more tightly than I’d like, but my body is strong enough to care for my family and home, and to lift my daughter to hug her every morning. Maybe I’m stuck at a dead-end job, but God has blessed me with unique talents that I can use both at my job and outside of it. Take a few moments to write down every personal strength you can think of. Having a hard time believing those strengths? Check out our post on daily positive affirmations to learn how repeating those truths out loud every day can rewire your brain to believe and embrace them.
  1. Fourth, be careful to base your identity on yourself as a person, instead of on the things you do. What’s so bad about basing your identity on your love for cooking or crafting or being in shape? The problem is that you can lose all of those things, and your identity with them. Before I had my daughter, I felt pride in my career and my fitness, and built an identity around those things. After she was born, I stepped away from my career to stay at home with her, and was still carrying the baby weight. All of a sudden, I wasn’t sure who I was, and was convinced that I had zero value outside of changing a diaper. (You can read more about that journey here.) This is why we must focus our identities on our character and personality. For example, I’m not a writer. I’m a strong, smart, Christian woman who is very careful with her words, and who just so happens to write. If life takes away my opportunity to write, I still know who I am.
  1. And finally, celebrate personal development over achievements. Achievements are usually at the end of a when statement. “I’ll be happy when I finish my degree, get married, land that job, etc.” But the focus on that moment of achievement takes away from your personal growth along the way. For example, I earned my masters degree several years ago. If I had only focused on the moment I received my diploma as my “achievement”, I would have felt fantastic in that moment, but the high wouldn’t last long. Instead, I focused on and celebrated my personal development along the way. My confidence soared learning I could hold my own in challenging classes, I refined my writing skills (Hello, 10 million research papers!), and I gained truckloads of helpful, real-life knowledge in the areas of entrepreneurship, business finance and law, and more. This mindset also helps you to recognize your personal growth and development even if you don’t reach that achievement. Because, let’s face it, life doesn’t always go the way we plan.

Wrap It Up

“I’ll be happy when…” is a lie and a trap, because the line just keeps moving. And it leaves us depressed when those whens don’t deliver all of the happiness and contentment we thought they would. We can counteract this by focusing on the positives of where and who we are right now, making gratitude a priority, and celebrating and basing our identity on who we are instead of what we achieve. 

“We’ll be happy when…” we make gratitude and contentment daily practices. Because as Dale Carnegie said, “It isn’t what you have or who you are or where you are or what you are doing that makes you happy or unhappy. It is what you think about it.”

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