3 minute read
We say it all the time: “I’ll be happy when _________.”
But, sadly, “I’ll be happy when _________” …is a trap.
We put ourselves in a restricted spot when we’re convinced that we have to wait for happiness.
Or that happiness can only be derived from external sources.
Or that happiness is a sustained state of existence.
We also do ourselves a disservice when we fall for the unrealistic expectation that our lives should look like this:When really, they look more like this:
Kind of resembles the stock market, right?
When investing in the stock market, a rule of thumb is to avoid obsessing over individual investments on a daily basis. The quotidian highs and lows are unpredictable and misleading. They can cause investors unnecessary distress that lead to unwise decisions. It’s a better strategy to zoom out and look at longer-term trends.
When it comes to happiness, we can also miss important information when we don’t look at the bigger picture, because:
- Happiness does not mean we’ll never experience “negative” emotions or struggle. We need our “negative” emotions, and growing in life necessitates some struggle.
- Happiness does not come from individual achievements or accomplishments. If we can always do more, improve, learn, and achieve something else—then we will always be waiting to find happiness.
- Happiness is not something that makes everything perfect. What if your personal life is finally amazing, but work is suddenly a mess? Where does happiness go then?
Do you need all the planets in every part of your life to align perfectly before you find happiness?
You just need some perspective.
When we gain perspective on where we are in relation to other times in our lives, and what we are building for the future, we can see how what is happening now connects to what is important to us.
And knowing what is important to us is key, because happiness comes from our ability to connect to our values and what we find meaningful as we move through life.
We know, easier said than done. Defining your values can feel like an epic task. Whole religions, philosophies, and political systems are built on values, after all, and those didn’t just appear overnight.
Another useful exercise is to sit down and write about five of the people you admire most. Jot down descriptive words or phrases about these people, and their personalities or qualities. What do you respect, value, or admire in them? These characteristics help to clarify the values that are priorities to you.
When you identify your values, you can ask yourself if and how you are connecting to them on a regular basis, and outline the steps you need to take to increase that contact.
If we focus on a process/values-oriented approach to life—as opposed to an outcomes-oriented approach, aka “I’ll be happy when”—we are better able to actually experience happiness and live fulfilled lives.
If we relegate ourselves to focusing on outcomes, external events or validation, and arbitrary deadlines for achieving happiness, we subject ourselves to the perspective that “it will never be good enough.” And happiness will always be just out of reach.
When we embrace the ongoing, constantly changing process of connecting to our values, we are empowered to cultivate happiness ourselves.
We will still struggle. We will experience stress and difficult emotions. But we can also arrive at a true sense of contentment and peace. Because every time we search for happiness in our values, we come closer to finding it.
Midwest Counseling & Diagnostic Center can offer support. Our extensively trained, highly skilled therapists are down-to-earth, non-judgmental, and committed to helping you find the path forward on your journey. For more information, please contact us.