“I’ll be happy when….” has been a frequently used quote by me throughout my life.
I remember saying it as early as high school.
“I’ll be happy when I get competitive in wrestling.”
“I’ll be happy when I win 20 matches in a season.”
“I’ll be happy when finals are over.”
“I’ll be happy when I graduate.”
Then in college.
“I’ll be happy when I know my major.”
“I’ll be happy when I know what I am doing after college.”
“I’ll be happy when I graduate.”
And even in my first few businesses I constantly said it to my partners and teams.
My partner on my first two ventures and I used to have an inside joke about it because that is how often we said it.
But if we are so focused on viewing happiness as some far-off destination, how can we ever be happy now?
Answer: We can’t.
Conditional happiness (or what I call “I’ll be happy when syndrome”) is one of the biggest reasons people are so depressed these days. It prevents us from feeling fulfilled and living life fully.
Conditional happiness is when you need to satisfy a condition in order to be happy. “I’ll be happy when” or “I can be happy IF.” As opposed to unconditional happiness which means that you are happy no matter what external events are happening in your life.
Society drills conditional happiness into our heads at a young age. We are told that achievement is the way to happiness. “Have this and then you can be happy.” “Achieve this and then you are happy and successful.”
This carrot and stick approach to happiness results in fleeting, scarce happiness. It adds pressure, stress, and negativity to all the aspects of our life.
I was recently talking to a friend of mine where he expressed that he was happy. His next statement is reflective of the larger issue in our society today:
“Is that a bad thing? Does that make me not hungry anymore? I feel like it won’t help me grow my business.”
He had significant cognitive dissonance around being happy. As if being happy was a bad thing, a detriment to his success.
He isn’t the only one who feels this way. I know I used to. I used to self-sabotage my happiness just so I could “keep my hunger.” I found happiness as something to be craved, but not obtained.
But who says we can’t be happy all the time? Who says we can’t be happy when bad things happen to us? Who says we can’t be happy now?
Why do we need nice clothes, money, or status to make us happy?
The answer is we don’t. We all have just agreed to create boundaries around when we can be happy.
How can you be happy in the present?
1. Be grateful for your present life
a. The Stoics preach to love and feel gratitude for everything that happens. Nietzche coined the expression,”Amor Fati,” which means a love of fate. The Stoics believe that accepting and being grateful for circumstances, rather than grasping for things to be different, is the recipe for joy and happiness.
2. Focus on the present
a. Most unhappiness comes from thinking of the future. All anxiety is future thinking. You are worried about a future event. Meditation, yoga, and play are all great ways to focus on the present.
Have you ever noticed a child completely wrapped up in play?
That is pure bliss.
There is no worry or anxiety about the future.
When you are completely focused on the present, it is impossible to be unhappy.
When I start to find myself getting anxious from future thinking, I hyper focus in on whatever I am doing or seeing around me, “I am doing dishes right now. This plate is blue. The water is warm.” Or if I am walking and start to come down with I’ll be happy when syndrome I will hyper-focus on my surroundings, “That tree is so green, it is amazing that it is made up of atoms, just like me. The sun is so warm. That breeze feels nice on my skin.”
3. Let go of the fruit
a. If you have a mission or a goal, how can you be happy in the present?
By living by a concept I call “letting go of the fruit.” In other words, you are letting go of the attachment to the result. To go after what you want without it affecting your happiness.
Vishen Lakhiani, author of the Code to the Extraordinary mind says, “Your happiness should not be attached to the result of your goals.”
Mahatma Gandhi may be the ultimate example of letting go of the fruit. Although he was fighting a lifelong battle to gain equal rights for his fellow Indians (first in South Africa, then in India), he maintained that he was filled with pure bliss every day. And if he failed in his mission, he would still be happy because he was living a virtuous life and doing the right thing.
The concept of “letting go of the fruit” or not being attached to results frees us from the boundaries our society created. It empowers us to be happy all of the time. Not just when we satisfy some condition.
Happiness isn’t this “nice” thing to have AFTER you are successful. Science has actually proven that happiness precedes success. Happiness fuels success!
In his best selling book, The Happiness Advantage, Psychologist & Harvard Professor Shawn Achor showed through research and science how society’s formula for success is broken:
“…our brains work in the opposite order. If you can raise somebody’s level of positivity in the present, then their brain experiences what we now call a happiness advantage, which is your brain at positive performs significantly better than at negative, neutral or stressed.
Your intelligence rises, your creativity rises, your energy levels rise. In fact, we’ve found that every single business outcome improves.
Your brain at positive is 31% more productive than your brain at negative, neutral or stressed.
You’re 37% better at sales.
Doctors are 19 % faster, more accurate at coming up with the correct diagnosis when positive instead of negative, neutral or stressed.
Which means we can reverse the formula. If we can find a way of becoming positive in the present, then our brains work even more successfully as we’re able to work harder, faster and more intelligently. We need to be able to reverse this formula so we can start to see what our brains are actually capable of. Because dopamine, which floods into your system when you’re positive, has two functions.Not only does it make you happier, it turns on all of the learning centers in your brain allowing you to adapt to the world in a different way. “
Conditional Happiness not only prevents us from being happy in the present, it also stunts our progress and personal growth. It holds us back from the success we are forfeiting happiness to achieve.
I’d like to replace “I’ll be happy when” to “I am happy now.”
We don’t need to justify happiness.
We can just be happy.
It’s a choice.
Want to become a better you?
Check out my book here. I’ll help you break your limiting beliefs and achieve your goals.