“I’ll Be Happy When ___________.”

MG Thinkers 50 Blog

June 29, 2015

by Marshall Goldsmith

Go ahead and fill in the blank. There are no “right” answers. This isn’t a test. It’s just a gauge of where you’re at.

You might say, “when my kids graduate,” “when I have a million dollars in the bank,” “when I retire,” “when we can move into a bigger house,” “when I get that promotion,” “when I have that relationship,” etc. Your answer can be whatever you like. It can even be more than one thing!

The list of ways we can fill in the blank is endless, but it’s an illusion. When we get the million dollars, we’re not satisfied — we want another million. When the kids are finally out of the house, we’re not really free; some other responsibility soon demands our attention. When we get that promotion, we have more work than we can handle and can’t make it home before 10 on any given night.

While we believe achieving a goal will somehow make us happy, the goal line always moves slightly beyond our reach. There’s nothing wrong with that. Without goals we would never achieve anything. Yet, the Great Western Disease of “I’ll be happy when…” – meaning we fixate on the future at the expense of enjoying the life we’re living now – is something we’d do well to look at.

Frequently, we believe that happiness is a static and finite goal, within our grasp when we get that promotion, or buy that house, or find that mate, or whatever. It’s inculcated in us by the most popular story line in contemporary life: There is a person. The person spends money on a product or service. The person is eternally happy…

This is called a TV commercial. The average American spends 140,000 hours watching TV commercials. Some brainwashing is inevitable. Is it any wonder that we become so attached to any change we make that we think it will change us forever? We set a goal, and mistakenly believe that in achieving that goal we will be changed forever, happy at last. But this just isn’t so in most cases.

So, what’s the solution?

It’s more simple than you think – but not that easy for most of us to do. The solution is to detach from the goal, to let go of the end result and focus on the effort and the process rather than achieving the goal.

When we distract ourselves from our obsession with results and outcomes, we are free to appreciate the process of change and our role in making it happen. We’re no longer frustrated by the languid pace of visible progress—because we’re looking in another direction. And, we’re not expecting a “happily ever after…” we get the car, the house, the relationship, etc., but living each day doing our best to change our lives and our behavior for the better of ourselves and of those around us.