Deferring Happiness... I'll Be Happy When...

Some people put off being happy until they finally get a better job, a perfect body, or lose weight. However, if you spend your whole life dreaming of a perfect tomorrow, you'll never get there.
Deferring Happiness... I'll Be Happy When...
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 15 November, 2021

Deferring happiness is something that many people are guilty of. Do you ever think “My life will be so much better when I finally find a new job”, “I’ll finally be able to have fun when I go on vacation“, or “I’ll spend time with my loved ones when I pass this test”? If so, you’re falling prey to this very common mindset.

Why do people think this way? Why do you convince yourself that everything will be better when you achieve certain goals or buy certain material goods? And why do you put off well-being and pleasure? Many people say that it’s just a way of holding yourself to a high (and strict) standard, while others believe it’s a very effective self-sabotage method.

Putting your happiness on hold and believing that the future is going to bring perfect and magical things is an illusion. In fact, it blinds you to the falseness of an ideal tomorrow.

For example, thinking that you’re going to be happier when you have more money or deciding that you won’t go to the beach until you lose weight only distort the real meaning of the word “happiness”.

Let’s take a closer look at these concepts.

A man standing under a giant clock.

Deferring happiness is a mistake that can affect your health

We live in the conditional tense. Thus, many of our thoughts and desires start with the word “if”. If I had more money, everything would be better. If I got promoted, people would know what I was capable of; If I was more attractive, I’d find a partner… Thoughts like this cause unnecessary suffering that affects your well-being.

Psychology defines this kind of outlook and attitude deferred happiness syndrome. This term is used to describe a person who’s always waiting for concrete or particular circumstances in their life. Yes, this wait is justified sometimes, especially if you invest time and effort in order to achieve something concrete. For example, deciding to dedicate more time to studying and going with your friends less because you want to pass an important test.

In examples like that one, putting certain things off makes sense, as it’s for a specific reason. However, if you suffer from deferred happiness syndrome, you don’t have logical reasons to put things off. Instead, you make arguments that work against you and tend to feed your suffering and discomfort. One example of that is believing that your life will be so much better if you lose some weight or change your physical appearance.

Those who defer and postpone do so because they don’t accept or aren’t happy with the present moment. They don’t know how to pay attention to or make the most of the here and now, the moment they find themselves in, with all its potential.

Why do people defer happiness?

While happiness might seem like a difficult thing to pin down, from a psychological point of view, it has a very simple definition. Happiness is accepting and loving yourself. It’s having a meaningful life, with a good social support network and the cognitive resources to cope with difficult situations. That’s it. No more, no less.

Thus, if you defer happiness, it’s probably due to concrete issues, such as:

  • Dissatisfaction with who you are and what you have. You’re constantly anxious about something that you lack.
  • Fear of facing what hurts in this present moment or of changing what you don’t like.
A woman outside holding a flower.

If you defer happiness, you’ll never reach it

Clive Hamilton, a philosophy professor from Charles Sturt University in Australia, wrote an article titled “Carpe diem? The deferred happiness syndrome”. According to this professor, society itself is what has made us chase this “carrot” we’ll never reach.

We’re always running after something intangible. Although we rarely get there, we always long to. We long for it because we aren’t happy. The causes of that unhappiness are our work, the conditions we live in, and a consumer society that makes us believe we need certain things to feel good and be happy. Thus, society makes you believe that having a better phone, nice clothes, and a fancy house will make your life better.

Another factor is the limited amount of time you have just to “be”, find yourself, and get in touch with your desires and the people you love. According to Dr. Hamilton, you should be a little bolder and make decisions that will make you feel good and live a life more in tune with your likes and needs. Stop running and thinking about tomorrow. Instead, stop and find yourself in the present moment.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.