Do you have a habit of putting your happiness on hold until “something good” happens? Do you say to yourself, “When I buy a house/get married/have a boyfriend/girlfriend/make more money etc., then I will feel good”? If yes, you suffer from what I call conditional wellbeing. Conditional wellbeing is to make good feelings about yourself, the world and other people dependent upon external factors. This approach to life is often at the centre of much of our unhappiness, however, and general discontent. So if it is so unproductive to our emotional health, why do we do it?
I believe that our culture of delayed gratification, as well as our rigid beliefs, have great influence on how we approach our wellbeing on a day-to-day basis. As children, we are often made to believe that good feelings of enjoyment should only follow an act of effort or good behaviour. Parents use rewards to make us do what they want us to do, as in “You can have ice-cream after you have done your homework/tidy up your room”, etc. When such schemes are reinforced through consistent practice, our brains automatically create an association between work and fun, as if we were only entitled to the latter if we did the former.
Our beliefs about “happiness” and “being worthy of feeling good” also interfere with our ability to enjoy ourselves for no reason. What do you usually associate with pleasure and good moments? Does it tend to involve free time, people and things, eating and drinking? Are you always engaged in some kind of (special) activity when you create this mental picture? If yes, your beliefs about personal wellbeing could be limiting the way you perceive and experience it, making it conditional.
Some people only allow themselves to feel enjoyment after a long day’s work, at the weekend or when away on holiday. Without noticing, their lives become all about chasing that reward, as if they did not deserve to have it without sacrifice. You need to earn it to enjoy, right? “No pain no gain”, so they say. Those beliefs are, of course, cognitive traps. While they keep you running on that wheel like a deluded hamster, the true satisfaction of living that comes from true, uncompromised self-expression become even more far-fetched.
If you identify with the above, and would like to reconnect with a healthier sense of joy and wellbeing, I suggest the following:
1- Stop over identifying with negative feelings: have you lost touch with life’s little pleasures because you are so focused on the negative? When you only have time for the big fish, life becomes a tedious and unsatisfying waiting game. Try maximising the pleasure that comes from waking up in the morning and having that delicious cup of coffee, or refreshing shower. Anything that gives you a good feeling is worth your attention and can change your experience, moment by moment.
2- Master the art of feeling happy just for being alive: make a point of taking a few moments throughout the day to feel good about being you. To achieve that, show gratitude and appreciation to yourself mentally, while you connect with good feelings in your body. If they do not come up naturally, create them, consciously, and experience them mindfully for a couple of minutes.
3- Drop the perfectionism: challenge thinking that revolves around “If I…, I would…” and “When I…, I will…” and start valuing yourself for who you are and not who you “should have been” in an unfortunate past, or “could be” in an idealised future. The same applies to the people and material things you convinced yourself you should have in order to feel happy. Tell yourself you are worth happiness and joy, right at this moment. When you genuinely feel that way, you attract good things, effortlessly.