The myth of ‘I’ll be happy when…’

Very often I hear people say things like, “I can’t wait till…” or “I’ll be happy when”, or “it will all be OK as soon as”:… (tick any that apply to you):

Jaguar car

  1. I stop work
  2. The kids leave home
  3. We’re out shopping for clothes
  4. I’m on that beach in Turkey
  5. I’ve had my breasts enlarged / reduced
  6. I’m in the pub
  7. I get a new office / job / boss / girlfriend / boyfriend
  8. My husband starts working harder
  9. My wife stops nagging me
  10. We move to our retirement home in Spain
  11. I’ve got my feet up in front of the TV
  12. I’ve checked my emails
  13. I’m having a hot bath
  14. I’m driving my new Jag.

And while you’re looking forward to all of the above, you are failing to live in the moment – emotionally and spiritually at least. You can easily disconnect from your kids on Saturday afternoon if you’re constantly looking forward to watching TV in the evening and you’ll probably have a miserable time at work if you’re always thinking about retirement. And have you ever experienced a Monday to Friday when you’re dying for the weekend to come, only to spend Saturday and Sunday dreading the arrival of Monday morning?

Nichiren Buddhism does not dispute that all the things in the above list – or whatever floats your particular boat – can bring a temporary rush of pleasure or even rapture, that each may be a well-deserved reward for big risks taken and noble efforts made. But they’re all examples of relative, conditional happiness (our attachment to which has created a multi-billion global advertising business – more of this another time.)

The happiest people understand that life is about how you feel here and now, not if and when (you get that job / girlfriend / house.) Or if and when you get to heaven. It can be tempting to stake a lot of your happiness on one week a year in Lanzarote. But if you’re in ‘hell state’ in your head, Lanzarote won’t feel like a blissful pot of paradise, no matter how brightly the sun may shine.

Such are the subtleties and apparent contradictions of the human mind. You can feel excited even if you have no money. You can feel frustrated and empty even when you have all the trappings of success. You can feel restless in a tropical paradise. And uplifted in an inner-city slum. If the outside stuff was really responsible for how we felt inside, everyone in the same place at the same time would feel exactly the same emotion to exactly the same degree for exactly the same length of time. As far as we know, this has never happened.

This week’s affirmations:

  • I am living fully in the moment
  • Happiness is here and now, not if and when

Next week: The intellectual dead end

2 Replies to “The myth of ‘I’ll be happy when…’”

  1. Morten Liell says:

    Great post, David! Living in the moment is important. We can never really enjoy life if we keep waiting for things to come. Instead we are wasting the moment we’re living in and will never be truly happy. One of my favourite quotes, by Omar Khayyam, says “Be happy for this moment, this moment is your life”.

  2. Bernie Holland says:

    Hi David – It’s been a while, but once again, I never fail to be uplifted by your posts – and one day we will meet up – somewhere !

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