Ever find yourself postponing your happiness? It sounds something like this: “When I get my promotion, I’ll be happy,” or “Once I meet Mr. Right, life will be great!”
If this sounds familiar, you may be relinquishing your power to be happy until some outside force deems it is time. Often when the one thing you imagined would make you happy finally happens, you find it isn’t enough. Then you wait for something else to happen. It’s an endless pursuit, a game you can never win.
You may have played the game yourself. It goes something like this. “I’ll be happy when I graduate from high school…or college…get my first job…get married…have kids, etc. We long for something, get it and move on, without realizing that “it” didn’t bring the happiness we had anticipated.
Last week one of my clients was interested in a new job. “I’m not happy in my job…but this new one is ideal,” she told me. “I know that if I get this job, I’ll be happy.” Will you really?
She felt unhappy, and the immediate solution was to find something new and move on…which she had done several times over the last five years. I asked her, “On a scale of 1 to 10, with 10 being the highest, how satisfied are you right now in your job?”
“Is five enough?” I asked. “What would it feel like to be at an eight?”
“It would feel great. This new job is an eight and I want it. I won’t settle for less than an eight.”
A week later, she called after she had interviewed for the “eight,” and had come away feeling unfulfilled. It didn’t feel like an “eight” any more and had slipped to a five.
She questioned if she should take the job, even if it wasn’t an eight and paused, realizing she had answered her own question.
She decided to stay in her job and I challenged her to find ways to move it towards an eight. I encouraged her to clearly define what an “eight” looked like and use that definition as a gauge for future decisions. For some people an eight might be, “having a boss who shows that she appreciates me,” or “spending no more than two hours a day on the phone,” or “working with people who operate as a team.” To remind her of this standard, I asked her to write “8+” on a post-it and hang it on her bathroom mirror.
I then used a metaphor to explain the importance of being specific but not rigid. When shopping, one of the most frustrating times can be when you need to buy an outfit for an upcoming event and have no idea what you want. On the other hand, going shopping and knowing exactly what you want can be equally frustrating – especially if you are not willing to compromise. The spectrum runs from being so specific that nothing works or so open that you’re unable to discriminate.
“Be creative and describe what you need,” I encouraged her. “And, if it still doesn’t work, then use your definition of an eight as your gauge for future decisions.”
The next time she calls and starts to play the “I’ll be happy when” game, my quick response will be, “Is it an eight?”
Think for a moment about one less-than-satisfying area of your life. You want MORE. On a scale of 1 to 10 (10 being completely satisfied), where are you now? Then determine the standard from which you will gauge future decisions. Is eight enough? Do you want a ten?
Use your imagination and create the ideal situation for you. What does your eight look like? By being more specific, you can more easily gauge what you want and recognize it more quickly. If you tend to be too specific, then look for the components that would make up the ideal job. For example, instead of identifying THE job you want, describe what makes that job important to you (flexible hours, atmosphere, location, etc.). Then use this list as your criteria for future decisions.