I'll Be Happy When ...
Updated: Jun 28, 2020
Here’s a biggie: The “I’ll be happy when …” trap.
It’s a trap I’ve fallen into. For many years I worked as a software engineer through a series of telecoms start-ups.
I enjoyed my work most of the time. It was intellectually challenging, I worked with some great people, it paid well and I created a pretty good work/life balance. But there was a definitely a part of me that wanted to stay in engineering and work in start-ups for the potential of an “exit”, that is, the company gets sold and I get to unload a suitcase full of cash on the bed and roll around in it (I wonder what this would feel like? Probably like I was an ostentatious pretentious twat now that I imagine it. Still, I’m tempted 😄).
In other words, I’ll be happy when I’ve got millions in the bank (or on the bed).
This trap often shows up around money. It shows up in many other ways too - I’d love to hear the ways you see it show up in the comments! The thing about money is once we are at a basic level of comfort, more money doesn’t make us happier, or if it does only marginally so. There are many millionaires and billionaires who are trapped in “I’ll be happy when I have my next million/billion…”.
This “I’ll be happy when …” message we tell ourselves is insidious. Not only does send the message that happiness is “out there”, somewhere in the future, it also puts us in a victim mindset - our happiness is down to something outside of us, and it’s often something we can’t control. In my case, the influence I had on whether the companies I worked for ended up being successful and attractive enough to be sold was minimal - so many other factors come into play including the people I worked with, investors, strategic and execution decisions, luck, timing, market conditions, global pandemics and much much more.
It doesn’t jump out as being obviously a victim mindset though and I wouldn’t have described myself as a victim. However, it tells us that our happiness is in the hands of other people or our circumstances. “I’ll be happy when …” is, obviously, saying “I’m not happy now and I won’t be until W, X or Y happens”. W, X or Y might actually be in our control, which is maybe even worse. Exactly because they feel in our control and therefore attainable we settle for being happy with being unhappy, because happiness is not far off! Unfortunately this becomes a bit of a habit, and, having achieved W, X or Y, there is a brief moment where we celebrate before we’re saying “I’ll be happen when I have Z”.
What if “happiness” is completely the wrong place to look? What if we don’t even try to be happy now, rather than sometime in the future? Can we really have happiness as a goal?
I believe happiness is a side-effect of doing meaningful, purposeful and productive work. When we get clear on what’s most important to us and the impact we want to have, and just start doing that, we feel good. We don’t need to get anywhere. It doesn’t have to be world-changing and the smallest steps are often enough. And paradoxically, we’re more likely to get to where we want to be. Happiness is the outcome that tells us we are on the right path, and reaching goals is like passing signposts along the way.
This article is part of 100 Days of Creation, my challenge to myself to write 100 articles in 140 days, each taking no longer than 30 minutes to write and publish.