The Danger of "I'll Be Happy When..."

Almost all of us have said at some point, "I'll be happy when..."

  • I make more money.
  • I start working full-time.
  • I find a romantic partner.
  • I get out of debt.
  • I figure out what I'm doing with my life.

Sound familiar? Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky wrote an entire book about the topic titled, "The Myths of Happiness." Most of the book is geared at adults who are over 30, but I think the idea especially applies to young adults. So many of my students say, "I'll be happy when I finish school and graduate."

But really, waiting for the 'when' means you aren't paying attention to right now.

Why can't you be happy right now, in this moment? Step back and think about what you are grateful for, even if there is a lot to look forward to. What is pleasant in your life? Do you get to spend time with friends? Or have the ability to stay up late, get up early for work, and still be able to do your job in the morning? Do you have people you love? What about a favorite song that just came out? These are the little moments that make up right now.

Can you look back on a moment in your life and say, "I should have enjoyed those moments more"?

That's the same idea here. If you can think about a moment in your past wistfully - some day this moment too will be a memory like that. Memory fades a lot of the tension, anxiety, and drama that comes with the day to day. That's why a lot of older adults look back fondly on being a young adult and say things like, 'Enjoy it while it lasts!" Forgetting about feeling like you have no money and are stressed out all the time, just 'waiting for your life to begin.'

As you reflect, there will always be more "whens" in your future.

When I think about the "whens" I imagined when I was twenty years old, I'm pretty sure I have accomplished most of them. I'm literally living my "happily ever after." But it would be really easy for me to get caught in new "whens." I'll be happy when I pay this off, when I reach this career milestone, when the nieces and nephews are all grown up. But I stop and remind myself about the "myths of happiness." Instead, I remember to be mindful and practice gratitude. The Greater Good Science Center has a long list of ways to cultivate happiness in healthy, productive ways. I encourage you to check it out.

And tell us below in the comments - what "when" statement resonates with you?