"I'll Be Happy When..."
Many people talk about their pursuit of happiness. Sadly, it is often an elusive endeavor, in large part because we don't take the time to evaluate our answer to the question: "What makes me happy?"
So ask yourself: "What exactly am I pursuing in my life?" If you're like most of us, you probably attach your concept of happiness to the attainment of external goals. I'm not just referring to chasing money or "security", though both are components. It's more that we get caught up in setting goals to acquire those things that we think will make us happy.
We want that new car because of the way it makes us feel. However, when the initial excitement wears off, how long will a new car - or a remodeled home, or a better-paying job - keep us happy? Most of us already have all we really need, but our goals are always "more", "nicer", "bigger", "better".
As long as we continue to use these external sources of pleasure as our benchmarks of personal happiness, we will find ourselves trapped in a never-ending cycle of "I'll be happy when..."
Most of us are all too familiar with this game. Perhaps when we were younger, it started with "I'll be happy when I graduate high school." Of course, once we graduated high school, it became "I'll be happy when I graduate college." And then, "I'll be happy when I get a job... I'll be happy when I get married... I'll be happy when I have my own place... I'll be happy when I get that promotion," and so on.
The worst part about this line of thinking is that it means you're not happy now - but now, the present, is all we have! This is why many of us reach a point in our lives where we've accomplished most of the goals we've set, yet still find ourselves asking, "is this all there is?" You may notice that this looks strikingly similar to a condition often referred to as "the mid-life crisis". On the surface, it appears that we have reached a place in our lives that we had aspired to, accomplished the very goals we ourselves had set, and yet, still, something is missing. I'm sure you've observed that the mid-life crisis can strike an individual at any age. A likely explanation may be because this juncture has very little to do with our age and far more to do with the goals we've chosen to pursue. We reach a point when we realize that making a living is not the same as making a life.
In short, it is still important to set goals for ourselves. But we have a tendency to live one milestone to the next; convincing ourselves that the next achievement will be the one that brings us the contentment we seek. Are we really setting ourselves up to find happiness? Or are we moving one step further along the road to an inevitable mid-life crisis?
If you are successful at achieving your goals but find yourself endlessly chasing happiness, then you'll enjoy my next newsletter. We will explore whether happiness is really found in the pursuit of external goals, or if perhaps happiness is better achieved via an internal journey with purpose. Perhaps by turning our focus inward and becoming the person we wish to be, our pursuit will in fact be the journey that has been eluding us all along.
- Dr. Andrew Sirlin