I have a client who's more than a little attached to winning an Oscar. She dreams about her acceptance speech, and what her life will be like afterward, and she’s taking real action to attain this loftiest of goals. She may even win one because A) she’s good and B) I believe what we put our attention on grows.
That said, she’s robbing herself of the full joy she could be experiencing along the way. How? She's adopted a belief that's so common in goal-oriented, high achievers: the more she suffers now, the more she deserves an Oscar in the future. She's also convinced that her life will be better after winning this hypothetical Academy Award than it is right now.
This is what I call the "I'll be Happy When … Syndrome." most of us are so eyeball deep in it that we have a hard time seeing it in ourselves. This syndrome robs us of the opportunity to experience full bliss right here, right now.
Here are some symptoms of the "I'll Be Happy When … Syndrome":
1. You're willing to suffer for now because you believe things will get better on the other side of achieving your goal.
We often think that once we get the perfect job, the perfect partner, the perfect apartment, or finally get that Oscar, that we’re going to magically be happier than we were before. But the truth is, your happiness does not lie on the other side of any of those things. It lies in one place – inside of you – and it lies in one time: right now. Most of us know this intellectually, but it's much more powerful to experience that physically. This is what devotion and meditation provide.
2. You're rigidly attached to life showing up in a particular way.
I call myself a recovering control freak. Control is such a tempting thing to be addicted to, but here’s the news, friends: control is an illusion. Life never goes according to plan. That doesn't make the planning irrelevant. Planning is necessary, but after we make those plans it may be wise to allow nature to take the wheel. Otherwise we look like those kids in the grocery store who think they're driving the shopping cart via the plastic toy steering wheel in the front.
3. You find yourself in expectation more than appreciation.
It's easy to fall into expectation. If we work really hard and get our ducks in a row, it's easy to feel that the universe somehow owes us something. We’ve paid our dues; now it’s time for life to get easy, stress free, and fun. What if, instead of this expectation, we start to appreciate all that's happening right now? How much is there to be thankful for in this moment?
If you're reading this article it means you have access to limitless information via the internet, and most likely a place to sleep tonight and food to eat. That is an awful lot to give thanks for. The sneaky benefit of gratitude is that it retrains your brain to look for what is going right instead of problems to solve.
If you find yourself identifying with any of these symptoms of the “I’ll Be Happy When … Syndrome" here's the fastest way out:
Devote yourself to something bigger than you.
The common thread among most of the world's top performers is that they've hitched their wagon to a cause greater than their own. Watch athletes after winning a game or actors winning an Oscar. The greats almost always thank something bigger than themselves or devote the award to a cause that fueled their performance. This is no accident.
Here’s a little secret: We’re not actually chasing things when we fall victim to the “I’ll Be Happy When … Syndrome.” What we’re chasing is the experience we think we’ll have on the other side of obtaining those things. If we can let go of our illusion of control, give thanks for what is happening NOW, and devote our unique gifts to the need of the time, we can not only move beyond this syndrome, but we can uplevel ourselves and the collective simultaneously.
So here’s a challenge for you: Think about your life. When have you been the happiest? When have you felt the most fulfilled? My guess is this happens when you are using 100% of your gifts to work toward something you believe is important, and you’re not rigidly attached to any outcome. This is devotion.
You'll know you're fully devoted when the act itself becomes the reward. You'll find that you're creating because it's fun to create, or you’ll help a friend move simply because you enjoy doing something nice for her, not because you’re secretly keeping a tally of what the universe owes you in karmic debt.
So this begs the question: Are you devoted to your dreams, or are you suffering for them? Of course every dream takes work and pain is part of being human, but suffering is optional.