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The Problem With “I’ll Be Happy When…”

A few months ago I started noticing how often it was that I'd hear someone say an "I'll be happy when" statement. I'll be happy when I'm done with school. I'll be happy when I get that job I want. I'll be happy when I'm in a relationship.

I remember being back in high school, making my own "I'll be happy when" statement, being absolutely convinced that I'd be happy once I got to college. At the time, it made sense to me. I'd be free from my parents, I'd get to choose my own classes, and I'd experience that amazing college life everyone always talked about. Having been so unhappy in high school, I was convinced that all it took was for me to be in college for me to finally be happy.


Image via Sally Paik

Much to my dismay, I was so incredibly wrong. In my first year or two of college, I struggled a lot. I felt overwhelmed by academic stress, I struggled to find my place socially, and I just felt an overall unhappiness with life. I was confused. I felt like being in college was supposed to make me happy, but it wasn't doing that, and that made me feel worse than if I had never had so much hope for college to begin with. High school me never could've guessed that I'd find myself thinking I'll be happy when I'm out of college.

Even stranger was that I actually found myself missing my high school years, a lot. I missed how easy classes were, I missed seeing my best friends, I missed not having to worry about rent or groceries. All this nostalgia made me realize something. In high school, I had spent so much time waiting for a change in my situation to make me happy that I forgot to focus on all the good that was happening in my life at the time. Looking back, I can't even remember why I had been so unhappy in high school in the first place.

Thinking that going to college or that graduating college was going to be the key to happiness, believing that it was solely my conditions that affected my ability to be happy, was problematic. I had created a conditional happiness, and in doing so, I convinced myself that I could not be happy until a certain condition was met. In high school, I decided that being in college would make me happy. When that didn't work out, I decided that graduating college would make me happy. Each time that I changed the condition for my happiness, I was unknowingly postponing the possibility of ever letting myself actually be happy. Instead, I was banking on the idea of being happy in the future to be enough to make me happy in the present.

Image via Sally Paik

What I know now is that the only way we can assure that we will be happy in the future is to be happy now. It is actively choosing to be grateful, finding overlooked joys, and re-framing our current situation that can make us happy. By no means do I think that constantly choosing happiness is an easy task, but I believe that we can't let outside forces control our emotional well-being when we can have control over it instead, and that with each day that we choose happiness, it only gets easier.

Sally is a fourth year communication student at UCSB. Her favorite things to do include traveling, eating, and binge watching YouTube videos. In her ideal future, she is either a research professor or market analyst for a digital entertainment company and living in her hometown of LA with a hypoallergenic cat.
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