Defeating “I’ll Be Happy When…” — How to Choose Joy Now

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Recently, I’ve been trying to get my weight under 200 pounds. I haven’t been under 200 pounds since I was about 19 years old (currently 32). Even though my 6’2” frame can make 200 pounds work, I’m getting pretty tired of the spare tire around my waist and my man-boobs. Despite a decent diet where I run a calorie deficit most days as well as jumping rope 10-15 minutes around five-to-six days a week, I can’t seem to get down below about 207 pounds (I got to 205 once, but I think that was just one dehydrated morning). I know, I know — I shouldn’t use my weight as my metric for success. I know I’m building muscle and stamina while also losing weight, resulting in an unchanging scale. But I set this goal for myself. 200 pounds. Now, I’m seeing it as more of a trap.

The “I’ll Be Happy When…” Trap

This is a familiar trap that can easy to fall into — the “I’ll be happy when…(insert some arbitrary metric here)” trap.

  • I’ll be happy when I finally make x-amount-of-money a year.”
  • I’ll be happy when I get x-number of social media followers.”
  • I’ll be happy when I’m driving x-model car.” 
  • I’ll be happy when I get the attention of x-type-of-person.” 
  • I’ll be happy when I move into that x-level neighborhood.” 
  • I’ll be happy when I’m accepted into x-university.” 

Why do we believe we understand what will bring us happiness? How do we know that those people who achieve these metrics are happy? 

Here’s the fun thing: we don’t.

If I were to hit my 200-pound goal, would I hang up my jump rope, crack open a beer, prop my feet up on my coffee table and be content? Maybe for about 15 minutes. By the time that beer goes from frosty to cold, I’m probably already thinking about hitting 190 or 185 pounds. The happiness felt by achieving that goal would be gone by the time I finished that beer. 

How do I attempt to quell discontent? Two ways: 

  • Enjoy the tiniest wins. 
  • Choose happiness by eliminating comparison.

1. Enjoying the Tiniest Wins

There’s no harm in setting goals for yourself. Financial, physical, social, mental, or spiritual — goals help us improve ourselves. They give us something to shoot for. However, a lofty goal can derail our motivation. This is why setting tiny, compiling goals, and enjoying our seemingly tiny wins is a great way to enjoy the process. 

Paraphrasing from a story told by James Clear (author of Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Habits & Break Bad Ones), he had a friend with a goal to get in shape. Did he set a goal to run 15 minutes a day, deadlift x-amount of weight, or do x-number of squats? Nope. His first goal was to put on his training shoes every day. Yep — every day, he would put on his shoes, lace them up, appreciate what he had done, and then take them off. Once that tiny goal became a habit, he would compile onto it. Soon, he’d put on his shoes, and step out of his front door. He’d take a deep breath, and come right back inside — celebrating his bite-sized progress. After that habit was mastered, he would add sitting in his car. Following that habit, he made a habit of driving to the gym…but not working out. He would just show up at the gym, not touch a piece of equipment, and go home. Mastering that, he would do all that, but only allow himself to work out for five minutes — no more. Once the 5-minute timer would go off, he’d go home. This process went on and on until he developed the habit of putting his shoes, going to the gym, and working out — a process that became second-nature. He ended up hitting his fitness goals and kept going because the habit completely ingrained due to the tiniest of goals — and likely thousands of micro-celebrations. Eventually, the habit became a part of who he was as a person.  Not working out became more difficult than working out for him.  

What was the difference between this style and other goal-setting systems destined for failure? Every day was a win — a micro-win, but a win none the less. A lofty fitness goal may feel out of reach, but can you put on your shoes? Of course you can. Giving yourself a high-five for even microscopic steps in the right direction make the process even more enjoyable. When you see progress every day, your motivation remains more consistent and increase the likelihood of you sticking with it. 

Making Tiny Tweaks

Though my weight scale has been my arbitrary metric, my jump rope workout gets tightened most every time I pick up my rope. Whether I reduce rest periods, extend the length of my rounds, or add rounds to my workout, progress has been made every workout — regardless of what the scale reads. I’m not saying this to brag, but really just to reaffirm for myself — Ken, forget the scale — you’re making progress! Enjoy it! (Sorry for venting in the middle of this piece.) 

Not Moving Forward Beats Moving Backward

Even simply remaining consistent is reason for celebration. My workout could remain stagnant, but as long as I keep doing it, it’s still moving in the right direction. You may not be adding a higher dollar amount into savings each paycheck, but adding the same amount is still adding to your savings. We (myself included) often don’t consider consistency to be progression. If your actions are in alignment with the nature of your goals, you’re always moving forward. 

Spirit-booster hack: If you’re feeling dissatisfied with your alleged lack of progression, close your eyes and imagine where you were before you even thought to have a goal. Construct a mental montage of how far you’ve come. Even the formulation of a plan to achieve a goal is an accomplishment. 

2. Choosing Happiness by Eliminating Comparison

We’ve heard that money can’t buy happiness, but most of us don’t believe it. Well, it’s true. According to two Princeton University researchers (one of whom is a Nobel laureate), the optimal “happiness income” is right at about $75,000 a year. Though those surveyed said that their overall feeling of success went up with their income, $75,000 “…is a threshold beyond which further increases in income no longer improve individuals’ ability to what matter most to their emotional well-being, such as spending time with people they like, avoiding pain and disease, and enjoying leisure.” 

A real-world proof of this that I turn to is the tragically short life of rapper Mac Miller. Though an overnight sensation with world-wide acclaim and net worth in the tens of millions, Miller’s own lyrics tell a tale of utter woe. 

“You never told me being rich was so lonely. 

Nobody know me. 

Oh well. 

Hard to complain from this five-star hotel.”

  • “Small World”

Miller was found dead in his home having overdosed on a deadly cocktail of fentanyl, alcohol, and cocaine. Other tales of the uber-rich being institutionalized for drug use and psychological treatment should be an indicator that money can merely pay the rehab bill.

Whenever I feel the tug of opulence, I just remember: a used Toyota is still more reliable than a new Jaguar, Range Rover, or Mercedes Benz.

The Validation Rollercoaster: Compulsive Social Media Use

While cutting things out of my life that caused undue stress, one of these was the compulsive use of social media. Whenever presented a free moment, I’d sedate my boredom with social media scrolling. Even though I was using it to relax, I would find myself more anxious with each checkup. Whether I was trying to decipher the root of drama in someone’s “vaguebook” post, scraping off the venom of a politically-charged rant, or comparing my own weekend to acquaintances’ latest toes-in-the-sand getaway, I felt a little more deflated each time I tapped on the screen. Still, I was addicted to the feedback loop that comes with posting. I would post what I thought was a pleasant image or an interesting thought and anxiously await the response. Some posts received huge acclaim. Some received little to none. Riding the validation rollercoaster left me feeling nauseous and exhausted, but my seatbelt wouldn’t come loose. It wasn’t until I read Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Like in a Noisy World by Cal Newport that I started to see what was causing my dependence on these platforms. 

“Man, if it were up to me, I wouldn’t even be on Facebook.” I remember thinking to myself while turning the pages. 

Realizing that I had lost control of my own freedom “to be or not to be” on social media, I shut down my Facebook profile and deleted the Instagram app from my phone — a move that has not only freed up hours of time to spend with people and pursue enriching hobbies, but has also increased the color and chemistry of every conversation I have. No longer are meetups a distracted retelling of each other’s timelines, but are instead vibrant reconnections that make me feel alive. 

Comparison: Real Cause of Social Media Blues

My decreased time on social media has also reduced the amount by which I compare my life with severely manicured postings of others. I’m no longer weighing their experiences and luxuries against my own. I feel more capable of appreciating every tiny blessing in my life, relishing it without comparison. I’m not comparing my life to the cropped and filtered pictures from an acquaintance’s family trip to snorkel off the coast of an exotic island. Instead, I’m in fatherly ecstasy as I watch my one-year-old son excitedly splash in a $12 baby pool. Whether we’re across the world or in my driveway, my joy doesn’t require comparison in order to thoroughly experienced.

Conclusion

Stop your “I’ll be happy when I get to go on that kind of vacation.”

Stop your “I’ll be happy when I hit 200 pounds” (ok, that one was directed at me).
Defeating the curse of “I’ll be happy when…” is often merely choosing to be fully present in the moment. Celebrate every tiny win or blessing. Don’t compare your joy to anyone else’s. Happiness is worth choosing right now. 


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Ken Lane

Intentional Living & Pragmatic Spirituality writer by night and early morning. Marketing writer by day. Musician. Family man. Jew. Okie. Meat popsicle.
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