Journey vs. Destination: happy whenAre you waiting, waiting, waiting for your life to begin? Waiting to be happy when some magical set of circumstances occur and the planets align?

I’ll be happy when I buy a house, renovate the kitchen, get new furniture for the living room. I’ll be happy when I get my business off the ground, have 50 clients, sell my company. I’ll be happy when I get married, get divorced, have kids, send the kids off to college, lose 20 pounds, move to the city, move to the country, win the lottery…

Yes, you might feel happier when you first buy your Dream Home and move in. In fact, you might be downright giddy.

But over time (and sometimes it doesn’t take long) you’ll shift back to your pre-Dream Home happiness level.

Happiness set point

It’s the inevitable happiness set point to which we tend to return. The bigger consequence, though, is what happened while you were waiting to buy your Dream Home.

If you suffer from I’ll Be Happy When… Syndrome, chances are you weren’t living in the now while you were scheming and saving for your new digs. Instead, you were living in the future and banking on the desired event bringing lasting happiness.

It just doesn’t work that way. And a whole lot of folks are missing out on the potential happiness of Here and Now because they’re waiting for that specific someday when they’ll be happy.

Overestimating happiness

Unfortunately, research shows we overestimate how happy something will make us.

In other words, we wrongly estimate our future satisfaction tied to achieving a goal or getting something we wanted. As a result, the I’ll Be Happy When… Syndrome is a slippery slope that can steal your days, weeks, months, and years because you’re not fully present. You’re always waiting for life to begin when…

Stumbling on happiness

If you want to dive deeper into this topic, I recommend Stumbling on Happiness by Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert. In it he explores why humans are poor “affective forecasters” or predictors of future emotion.

His book describes “how and how well the human brain can imagine its future, and about how and how well it can predict which of those futures it will most enjoy.”

This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have goals or a desired future state you’re trying to attain. It just means:

  • Beware of deferring happiness and half living your life until X happens
  • There’s a good chance you’ll have overestimated how happy you’ll be when X does happen
  • Don’t be too surprised when you find you’ve wrongly predicted altogether what will make you happy

The bottom line: Avoid deferring happiness until that elusive someday. Be happy now.