“I’ll be happy when I find a new job.”
“I’ll be happy when I get a promotion to management.”
“I’ll be happy when I finally get a raise.”
If you’ve ever had one of these thoughts or some variation thereof, you’re not alone. It’s easy to convince yourself that happiness is just around the corner and that you’ll finally be satisfied once you reach a long-awaited goal.
But not only does this rob you of happiness during the pursuit — often, as soon as you reach one milestone, you become fixated on the next. As a result, you could spend your whole life convinced that happiness is just barely beyond your reach.
This is a phenomenon that Dr. Natalia Peart, psychologist and author of Future Proofed: How To Navigate Disruptive Change, Find Calm in Chaos, and Succeed in Work & Life, has dubbed “I’ll be happy when” syndrome — and according to her, it can be a major cause of strife. The solution, Peart says, lies in embracing the journey as well as the destination, and abandoning the need to live a “checklist life.”
Glassdoor’s Emily Moore recently caught up with Peart to learn more about “I’ll be happy when” syndrome, balancing your priorities and how to fully embrace the here and now — here’s what she had to say.
Glassdoor: How would you define “I’ll be happy when” syndrome — what are some of the symptoms, and who tends to suffer from it?
Dr. Natalia Peart: This describes the way so many of us live and we don’t even realize it. We believe that happiness only comes after we’ve checked things off our list. For example, I’ll be happy when I get the dream job, when I get married, when I get a raise, when I get the dream house or lose 15 pounds. The checklist goes on and on. We think happiness comes only after we’ve checked off the things on our list we need to do, things we need to accomplish, things we need to buy, milestones we need to reach.
Most people suffer from it because our blueprint for success is based on the world we used to live in, not the world we have today. We used to think that success and happiness were defined through our career — better titles, more power and the accompanying financial rewards. We’ve all been seduced into believing that there is a magical destination of happiness and fulfillment at the end, and we thought that once we get there all of the pain and sacrifice would be justified. In reality, we never seem to arrive, and even when we think we do, we quickly go back to needing to check something else off the list to get to happy again.
Glassdoor: You describe success as a lifestyle, not a destination — can you explain what you mean by that?
Dr. Natalia Peart: The old road to success and happiness is on a permanent detour. We now live in a state of constant change and disruption, and the way we work has also changed as well. We are no longer expected to climb just one company ladder, as lifetime loyalty to one employer has vanished. All of this means that we must live a lifestyle that allows us to be happy right now, wherever we are in life.
We need to create a lifestyle in the here and now that includes both our bigger goals that help us achieve a sense of meaning and fulfillment, as well as our right-now goals for things that bring us joy, happiness and increase our overall sense of well-being. This integrated view of success and happiness must reflect what it means to live today rather than chasing happiness tomorrow.
Glassdoor: What are some small ways you can find happiness in your everyday life, no matter where you’re at?
Dr. Natalia Peart: If you ask most people about what they really want their overall lifestyle to look like, they will say things like make money, spend time with friends and family, achieve work goals, spend time on hobbies, enjoy new place and experiences, and make a difference. But where it goes wrong is that instead of building a lifestyle that reflects a variety of the things we want, we end up focused on the immediate things we must do or accomplish each day.
You can start to find happiness by knowing what life priorities really matter to you: like for example, is it having a greater sense of community and connection to others? Is it your career and financial goals, is it your ways that you love to creatively express yourself? How about wanting to have a greater [impact] and make a difference in the world? Knowing this about yourself is critical.
Glassdoor: How can you balance the decision to be happy with where you are while still working toward larger goals?
Dr. Natalia Peart: You should set your priorities to what matters to you right now. Your list of to-dos should also be a list of must-dos that include these priorities in your life, both in the short run and long run, that are important to your overall sense of meaning and fulfillment and well-being, and not just the things that are on the check-list that must happen, but do not inspire you in any way.
Glassdoor: What if you’ve already achieved a big goal, and are now struggling with a feeling of emptiness or being lost — how can folks in that situation find their way again?
Dr. Natalia Peart: The first thing to know is that this is also a very common feeling. One big reason this happens is that we base our life goals and the expectation for life happiness on the decisions we made when we were teenagers; our college major, then our first job and career. It should not be a surprise that we find that once we have accomplished the goals we set for ourselves based on this initial path, it does not bring us the happiness and fulfillment we thought it would later in life. When you are in this place, it is telling you that you have no clear life compass that is guiding you — just a series of things you check off on your checklist each day. If you are in this situation, you should step back and ask yourself bigger questions to find your bigger vision such as, what do you care about deeply and what inspires you, so that you can better orient yourself toward what is meaningful to you, and not just toward what skills you have built up over the years.
Glassdoor: You’re a big proponent of finding balance in both your professional and your personal life. Do you have any tips on how people can accomplish that?
Dr. Natalia Peart: Rather than searching for that elusive work-life balance, what you really want to strive for is a more integrated life that allows you to optimize the things that are a priority for you right now. Once you have figured out what is really important to you, you need to make it harder for these priorities to get squeezed out of your life. You should prepare for each week by planning what projects you must complete, and also what you will do to restore your energy and integrate more of your life’s priorities. You also need to build in accountability for what is important to you. To do that, look for or create support systems for different aspects of your life. Look for groups, communities or circles of people, whether online or in person, that you know or that you can join that share your motivations and direction.