Stop thinking 'I'll be happy if...'

It's the start of a New Year. For many, it's also the time of year when you start obsessing over how to "better" yourself. I often think about a quote that Carrie Bradshaw said in Sex and the City: "You're always looking for a job, a boyfriend or an apartment. So, let's say you have two out of three and they're fabulous. Why do we let the thing we don't have affect how we feel about all the things we do have?"

I'm 33. The same age actress Sarah Jessica Parker was when the first episode of Sex and the City aired. And, in my 30s, this quote feels like it rings even more true. I think about how, when I was a kid, 30 seemed like the age when I would officially be an adult and would finally have my life figured out. Husband, 2.5 kids, a house with a white picket fence, blah blah blah. Now, let's collectively laugh together about how wrong I was. In my 30s, I'm far from having my life figured out, and I've realized I spend so much more time thinking about the things I don't have instead of appreciating the things I do. 

I keep telling myself, "I'll be happy if..." Like, I'll be happy if I get my book published. I'll be happy if my blog is successful. I'll be happy if I get engaged. I'll be happy if I get married. I'll be happy if I buy a house. I'll be happy if I have a child. If. If. If. If. If. If. I measure my life by these superficial things that I define success by and tell myself, "I may be depressed now, but, when one of these things happens to me, then — then I'll be happy."

But by doing that, I'm missing out on all the good things about my life right now. And I'm putting so much weight on these "ifs" — when, in reality, if those ifs happen, will it really cure all my problems anyways? 

For instance, being a published author doesn't cure you from depression. There's plenty of published authors and celebrities who struggle with their mental health. There's one successful author — one of my all-time favorite authors —who has been ground-breaking in the queer community because of her rom-coms featuring LGBTQ+ characters. But, recently, strangers have been harassing her about her own sexuality, which ultimately forced her to come out as bi-sexual when she wasn't ready. She has accomplished everything I've wanted to accomplish, but that doesn't mean she's not struggling too. That doesn't mean her life is perfect. 

I'm also sure all my married friends can tell me that getting married and having kids definitely doesn't make your problems go away — as we can see in the Sex and the City reboot And Just Like That — and will probably just give you a whole new array of things to stress about.  

I know, especially as a woman, we're programmed to dream about our wedding day since we were little girls. We obsessively plan on Pinterest before we even have a partner, and put so much stock in just ONE EFFIN DAY of our entire lives and think that will be when our lives are perfect. How unhealthy is that! That will just cause you to cry on your wedding night, like Brittany Murphy's (RIP) character in "Just Married," when she wails, "This is our wedding day. And it's something I fantasized about my whole life. And now it's over."

I'm not saying these things to say, "Well, life sucks no matter what so stop thinking you'll be happy if something happens...because you probably still won't be." What I AM saying is that, no matter who you are, you will have days when you're sad and days when you're happy. While you are so busy looking at other people's lives and thinking, "I wish I had what they have," there is someone else, looking at your life, and thinking the same thing about you. 

Instead of thinking, "I will be happy if..." we need to start working on feeling happy now, with what we already have. And, instead of letting all of your happiness ride on other people and things you can't control — like if the manager at the job you applied for decides to hire you, if you'll be approved for the house you put in an offer for, if you'll meet the love of your life,  if your partner will propose, if your pregnancy test is positive, etc. —instead, do things you can control that will make you happy.

Medium writer Elizabeth Collins said, "There is nothing wrong with wanting nice things. But if you always feel like you need something more to be happy or 'good enough,' that’s a problem. When you’re preoccupied with what you should have, the people who can give you those things have all the power. You don’t see how much power resides inside of you."

So how do you do this? According to the mental health nonprofit Help Guide: "Researchers in the field of positive psychology have found that you can genuinely increase your happiness and overall satisfaction with life—and it doesn’t require a winning lottery ticket or some other drastic change of circumstances. What it takes is an inner change of perspective and attitude."

"While we can’t change our nature, we can train our brains to be more positive. ... Just as dwelling on negative things fuels unhappiness (and plays a big role in depression and anxiety), choosing to notice, appreciate, and anticipate goodness is a powerful happiness booster."

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