Conditional Happiness: an awesome path to misery and why you should avoid it

When I was a kid, I was a hyperactive child. When I look back at those days, I wonder how my parents handled me, for I used to be a restless person, dabbling in several things all at once. While I turned passionate about studies and excelled in academics later in life, those days would have been tumultuous to say the least.

I remember my mom frequently saying to her visiting relatives that she would be happy the day I completed at least my schooling. It was later followed with completion of my college and then with getting a job which was later followed by my wedding. I would be amused at her diatribe. Those words kept repeating in my life, sometimes from people around me, at others from my own mouth. A lot of people attach an “If” label to that future moment when they hope they would be happy. Psychologists call it the “I’ll be happy when” syndrome.

But here is what I’ve found the reality to be:

Placing a condition for your future happiness presents an open field for misery.

For one, you keep focusing on a distant future when things the way they would stand then, would make you happy. Or so you feel today and now. “I will be happy when I save a million dollars” or “I will be happy when I can run that marathon”. What it does is that it makes it appear that happiness is not here in the present moment but in that distant horizon, somewhere in the future. Which effectively means you’re in misery at this very moment! At another level, such thoughts deprive you from feeling contended and happy.

Mind’s booby- traps

Conditional happiness is a trap your mind lays out, tricking you into believing that you ought to fulfill certain condition for you to be really happy. Implying that you’re not happy right now and so if your mind believes it, you start feeling helpless, desolate and depressed already. Fulfilling the said condition becomes the prerequisite for experiencing happiness. In a wonderful lecture, Alan Watts, the philosophist, reminds us that in a bid to plan and reach the destination, we forget to enjoy the journey. The destination is momentary, the journey is what makes it worthwhile. Conditional happiness robs one of the joys of traversing that journey altogether.

In today’s age when social media has set unrealistic targets for us in order to be, rather to be seen, as successful (which is apparently the first criteria for being happy), it turns out that we frequently lag behind as compared to others. All those pictures of exotic vacations they picture themselves in, gourmet dinners people have, those designer dresses they flaunt and the luxury cars they drive makes us feel low key and underperforming. So your mind starts placing a condition for being happy: get that X and you’ll be happy. Do that Y and you’ll be happy. Placing a condition for being happy means you need to get something bigger, better, different than others.

3 Ways to Identify the Conditional Happiness Trap

  1. Identify your thoughts when they steer towards comparison and envy.
  2. Stop placing conditions on future things that you could in fact, lose some day. Like the job, the money, the cars and even the relationships, which cannot be guaranteed for life.
  3. Monitor your thoughts when they make you feel low and depressed.

9 Practical Tips To Help Live In The Present And Feel Happy At All Times

The key to experiencing long lasting happiness is to find it within you.

Happiness is not a pursuit that leads you to some place distant. It’s always present, in the here and now, inside of you. The book ‘The Alchemist’ aptly depicts this idea when the protagonist travels the whole world in search of that wealth which he has dreamed of and returns to find it buried in his own backyard. Why that futile attempt to search for happiness outside of you? When you attach a value to happiness, it becomes unattainable or limited. In several Asian philosophies like Buddhism, Hinduism and Jainism, true happiness is said to be that which is the true nature of human soul. The human soul is always in a state of bliss and one can do certain things to experience it and keep it in that state forever.

  1. Control your thoughts for any deviations. Your self-talk is highly influential and if left unattended and unsupervised, it can tend to take you for a ride.
  2. It helps you focus on the present moment rather than straying away hither tither.
  3. Find the good in all things. Search for goodness in people and situations, not everything is all black. Even the darkest of nights has a dawn; all dark clouds have a silver lining.
  4. Maintain a thought journal where you jot down your daily musings. Revisit every now and then and see for yourself what has impacted you and how. People are often surprised and annoyed at how they have been thinking when they read their own journal.
  5. Practice active gratitude. Be grateful for joys big and small. Say thanks to people who make a difference. Feel blessed for even the smallest of good things that happen in the whole day. Like boarding the flight on time, finding the parking spot in a busy district or even feeling healthy. When you start searching for small things to be grateful, you find more of them.
  6. Find a reason and a purpose of life. Life’s purpose makes a huge difference to the meaning it lends itself. Not having a purpose or assuming that earning money and spending it lavishly is the purpose turns life into a misery because it’s merely a mirage which one can never quite attain.
  7. Stop placing happiness in some external person or an external event. People are not responsible for your happiness or your misery but it’s only you who are. You decide to feel happy and no one can stop you from that.
  8. Rather than focusing on the outcomes, focus on doing your best in the process. Being attached to the result prevents you from putting in your 100% in the efforts.
  9. Make efforts to feel happy. Give more. Stop every now and then. Look around and understand you’ve been blessed to have all that you have enjoyed in life. Remember, you don’t become happy when you are successful, you become successful when you’re genuinely happy.

I would also recommend you to check out my post about mindfulness as this has helped me.

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