Why “I will be happy when…” Doesn’t Make You Happy
Editor’s note: This article was contributed by Nicole Newcomb, MHC-P, EWN psychotherapist.
Today I looked in the mirror with 153 pounds of sadness. I had reached my “so called” ideal weight that I had set for myself five months ago. I told myself I would truly be happy and content when I reached that number. I convinced myself that all I had to do was watch what I ate and exercise. While it was true that exercise was more beneficial than I once believed, it was also true that happiness was not at the end of the rainbow waiting there for me.
I had locked myself into a faulty hope. I obtained my goal but I quickly realized that 153 was not a magic number. How could it be that I didn’t feel happy? According to Dr. Sherry Pagoto, in her article ‘I will be happy when…’, happiness cannot be fully dependent on a goal. Not that you should not set them, but that one goal cannot be what makes or breaks your happiness. Dr. Pagoto says that setting your happiness on One Goal can lead you to not experience the happiness that is around you on a daily basis.
While I personally believe that goals are what gets people where they want to go, it is important to remember not to set your goals too high. Not to say that you cannot achieve large goals, but smaller, more attainable ones allow for continued motivation, satisfaction and perseverance.
In addition to goal setting, I also believe in stopping and smelling the roses. If you do not stop and realize the little things that make you happy on the daily road to their goal, then you may be missing true happiness. Like Dr. Pagoto says:
“A contended life is an accumulation of moments. It (happiness) doesn’t burst out everyday, it simmers.”
Stop and ask yourself what makes you happy? Does coming home and seeing your child’s pasta smeared smile make you happy? Or is it simply sitting down after a long hard day at work and knowing that you did a good job?
These are what Dr. Pagoto calls little stars and she recommends trying to fill your day with as many little stars as you can. Positive Psychology can help play a role in this new starry sky.
In her Psychology Today blog article ‘Put Positive Psychology to Work for You’, Dr. Susan Krauss Whitbourne said there are three steps you can take to achieve long-term fulfillment at any age. Before we look at these steps, it is important to distinguish between happiness and fulfillment.
According Dr. Krauss Whitbourne:
“Happiness is a fleeting state that reflects your enjoyment of the moment in the present. After the moment, you return to your previous state of mind.”
Fulfillment on the other hand, “persists over time and in the long run will contribute to your mental health.”
Fulfillment for me was to keep those healthier lifestyles going and to continue feeling better physically and mentally. Now understanding the difference between the two, here are the three steps that Dr. Krauss Whitbourne recommends:
1. Distinguish between what you think will bring you happiness and what will bring you fulfillment: make a list of what makes you happy and another list of what makes you fulfilled. Now compare and contrast.
2. Determine your reality: Take a notepad or sticky note with you throughout the day and jot down things that made you happy and things that made you fulfilled. Make sure to distinguish between the two.
3. Make a difference: Think about your interests, skills and talents. Are you providing service to your community through those interests or skills? Make a commitment to find at least one worthy cause that you can devote at least an hour of your time to once a week or once a month.
According to Dr. Krauss Whitbourne and Dr. Pagoto, happiness has to come from within. Even though I achieved my 153 lb goal, I had to stop and look at the little successes along the way. My little stars came in the form of spending more time with a friend during our runs, choosing healthier eating habits, feeling accomplishment with every pound that came off and feeling physically healthier. So many little stars that came from only One Goal. Imagine how many little stars can come from a few positive goals you set for yourself.