“I’ll Be Happy When…”

I hear it all the time: “I’ll be happy when this semester is over.” “I’ll be happy when we find our dream house.” “I’ll be happy when this cold is gone.” “I’ll be happy when I finish this dissertation.” “I’ll be happy when I get pregnant.” “I’ll be happy when the baby is here.” And what happens? The semester ends, the dream house is found, the cold is over, the healthy baby is born; there’s a period of happiness, elation even, and then regular life starts in again and the phrase starts all over: “I’ll be happy when…”

I’ve been working with a client who’s been finishing her Ph.D. dissertation. She’s been working on it for a long time and it’s been a nearly constant source of stress and anxiety. The dissertation has consumed her to the point of pushing many other important areas aside, including her marriage and kids. Many times during sessions she would say, “I’ll be so happy when this dissertation is over,” to which I would respond, “Yes, you will, and then the next source of anxiety will rise up and consume your mind.” She didn’t believe me. She was convinced that once she finished, she would be happy again. A few weeks ago she completed her work and experienced, as expected, a couple of weeks of pure joy. But in our session last week, she begrudgingly admitted that she was pulled under by anxiety again, this time focused on a minor health issue in her daughter.

“I keep thinking about my daughter’s health and scared that something is really wrong.”

“Let’s see what happens if you breathe beneath those thoughts. What feelings might be underneath?”

She closed her eyes and took a few minutes to breathe deeply. When she opened her eyes, they were filled with tears, and she whispered, “I don’t know how I would bear it if something happened to one of my kids. The risk feels too big.”

The risk is big; it’s enormous. There is nothing that renders us more vulnerable than opening our hearts to loving with abandon. As we talked further, my client realized that she had protected herself from this vulnerability by diving into her Ph.D. dissertation just months after her daughter’s birth. She also realized that she had done the same thing as a newlywed by launching a business. “I’ve kept myself busy to avoid feeling this vulnerability.”

“Yes, that’s what we all do.”

If you’re prone to anxiety, your mind will attach onto anything tangible as a way to avoid the incredibly painful and scary core feelings of vulnerability and touching into the risk of loss. When you’re obsessing on the future-based “what-if” thoughts, you’re able to distract from the rawness of the moment and the almost unbearable awareness that by opening yourself to love you’re also opening yourself to the risk of loss and, thus, heartbreak. There is no greater risk, and people will go to great lengths to avoid this vulnerability either through staying single, staying busy, or becoming trapped in the anxious mind.

As I often see with my clients, transitions are particularly tumultuous, shape-shifting, and unsettling times when you’re sense of feeling out of control and groundless are amplified. The natural human tendency is to say, “I’ll be happy when… [this move is over; I'm settled into my new job; etc]” but that thought is a trap: there will always, always be another transition just around the next bend. And even if we’re not enduring a major life transition like getting married or having a baby, life itself is transition, a fundamentally unstable existence where the only permanency is change itself.

I’ll say it again: Life is uncertainty. Life is change. There are islands of calm and certainty scattered throughout the ocean, but for the anxious mind the challenge is to learn how to find serenity even during the storm. It’s not easy. Some would say it’s the greatest spiritual challenge you can undertake because it really boils down to learning how to embrace this moment, whatever it is. It’s about learning how train your mind to accept this moment even when things are hard.

In the end, it’s about recognizing, over and over and over again, where we have control and where we don’t. We can’t control the future; we can’t control the outcome of most events in our lives. But we can control how we choose to response to the fear-based what-if thoughts that descend on your mind like an avalanche and try to pull you away from this moment, right here, right now.

27 comments to “I’ll Be Happy When…”

  • KD

    THIS, is huge. I sometimes why I didn’t struggle earlier on with uncertainties about my relationship, but it is most certainly because I also felt there were different issues to latch on to: I’ll be happy when I ace this course; I’ll be happy when I get that new job; I’ll be happy when we finish working on the kitchen, the bedroom, the landscaping; when I can run a 5k under X minutes, etc., etc, etc. Now it’s like, I’ll be happy when I KNOW. Truth is, I may never know if it’s right (or wrong) to marry my fiance. Even if it is “right”, it doesn’t mean it will last. The problem is now I am trying to control something that is completely out of my control – the future.

    Again, great post. Thank you.

  • admin

    Yes that’s exactly it – and what a great list of examples of “I’ll be happy when…” Yes yes yes, trying to control something that’s out of your hands. That’s at the very core of this transition (and all transitions, including the transition of life): trying to control and learning how to let go. There’s such wonderful relief and spaciousness that happens when you get to that place of, “Oh well. Even if it’s a ‘mistake’ I’m just going to move forward because I’m in a good relationship. The outcome is mostly out of my hands.”

  • Sarah

    Yes, another great post. I’ve been super busy lately and keep wondering if I’m taking on so much so I don’t have to deal with the emotions I know are floating around inside me. I have to constantly remind myself that I can choose to be happy at any given moment, that it doesn’t have to come from some outside source. It’s a hard practice to master, that’s for sure. I think one of my main issues is the concept of the outcome being out of my hands, because there are times when I feel very responsible for the outcome, but don’t trust myself in knowing which decision to make, which will ultimately determine the outcome of the situation.

  • Cori

    this is really interesting, before i opened this article i was sitting at my desk thinking, what is this feeling in my stomach of uneasiness about my relationship? is there something missing? does that mean that it’s wrong because i am having this feeling? what about that excuse people use for breaking it off with another person of “there was just something missing.” but when i think about my relationship, i cant think of a solid justifiable thing that is missing… so is there something wrong with me? is there an unhappiness inside of me that i am asking my relationship to fill?

    KD – i struggle constantly with uncertanties and i tell myself oh ill be happy when i “know” that this is the man i should marry… and that when i “know” that is when we can think about setting a date for the wedding.. but maybe i have some work to do dealing with uncertaintly and also with trusting myself. so now i wonder, what other issues am i latching onto to distract myself with this uncertaintly of knowing that really arent issues at all?

    thanks for sharing :)

  • Cori

    also interested in peoples thoughts about that feeling that something is “missing in the relationship.” i have had that told to me as an excuse when someone has broken up with me. is that a real thing, or is that something that happens when people are looking for a relationship to complete them and it isnt, so they assume something is wrong with the relationship? hope that makes sense!

  • JP

    Cori, I can somewhat relate. My fears are not necessarily that I think something is wrong in the relationship, but maybe something wrong inside of me. What i’ve been battling the most right now during my engagement is the constant argument I’m having in my head “Do I love her?” “Do I love her enough?” “Did I ever love her?”. I have this voice in my head that wants to argue and is very strong that keeps saying “you don’t love her” The funny thing about it is, theres no reason for me to be speculative or argumentative about the subject, cause she’s great. So I have no idea why I’m having these doubts, but I’m hoping they come to pass, cause the major fear, is that they will continue, and nobody wants that. Maybe Sheryl has some thoughts on this?

    • admin

      I’ve dedicated an entire lesson in my upcoming E-Course to your exact questions. It would be worth it for you to check it out so you can have accurate information and tools at your fingertips. Your question of “Do I love her/him enough?” is one of the seven most common questions that I’m asked, each of which serves as a topic for a lesson.

  • KD

    Cori – that totally makes sense. Part of me is saying that something is missing or doesn’t feel right in my relationship. Why do I feel this way? Because I know things aren’t “perfect”. By that I mean, I know we are not as affectionate as some couples (sometimes we’re more like roommates), our approach to life is different (he’s relaxed, and I am obviously more carpe diem!), he says and does things that piss me off or make me cringe – in private and in public. SO, what do I do? I have to decide if getting married is the right choice for me at this time, and if it is, then I need to LET GO.

    Truth is, and call me self-centered, but I’ve never felt my relationships complete me, so why should that be any different now that I am engaged? I see relationships like salt: something that enhances the lives of the people involved. Maybe some people are fotunate to find someone that can make them truly and completely happy, but I feel like that sets you up for a lot of disappointment. Plus, it diminishes the value that friends and family have in your life.

    Hope this helps. But, then again, I’m the wack-o who is struggling with my relationship :)

  • JP

    Thanks Sheryl, the stronger thought is not so much “Do I love him/her enough?” but its an absolute thought in my head right now telling me “you don’t love her” which is bothersome, because the old cliche is that if this statement pops up than yur probably making a mistake. Does this make sense? Do you ever deal with the fear thought/statement that is more “You don’t love her” than the question? Trust me I’d rather have the question than the direct statement.

  • admin

    Yes, but it’s all the same thing: Fear’s way to try to protect you from the risk of loving. With real love comes the risk of losing that love, and when you allow fear to shut your heart down, you doubt if you even love her or have ever loved her, then fall prey to the misconception that if you’re having that thought it must mean you’re making a mistake. Remember: Love is an action, an intention, an act of will. It’s not a feeling. If she’s someone worthy of learning about love with (which I know she is), then you’re headed in a good direction.

  • I loved this post! It certainly rang a bell, it’s so true!

  • Cori

    last night, my fiance and i hung out and i noticed something. i noticed myself taking a self inventory every 2 minutes (at least!) of how i was feeling or what i was thinking about the relationship and about him at that moment. was i feeling happy about him? did i like him? was i bored? was he bothering me? and as i realized it i wondered if a. this was normal and b. why cant i just be? why cant i just be here with him and not constantly be analyzing and checking in with myself about how the relationship was going? are there people that are able to do that and why cant i? and i realized in my journaling that maybe i am focusing on this and overanalyzing to avoid the fears or emotions that i am really feeling. im still having a hard time believing that though and seeing beyond the surface of the issues i am facing right now. it doesnt seem real to me that i have any fears and my overanalyzing is just taking my focus aaway from them. and im having a hard time working through any fears i do notice because they dont feel real. dont know if that makes sense… any thoughts from anyone going through a similar situation?

  • Cori

    also, when will the first ecourse be available? it sounds like it could be really helpful.

  • Cori – Every time you’re stuck in a pattern of obsessive thinking it’s a way to avoid something deeper. It might not be fear – it could be grief or loneliness or vulnerability or feeling out of control. But knowing your situation I can safely say that it’s very likely that you would have some fear about intimacy and the largeness of the commitment. When you’re in the anxious state, it’s a good time to stop, breathe, and ask yourself, “What am I feeling right now? What are these thoughts protecting me from feeling?” And do that out loud or in a journal because it’s almost impossible to hear a clear answer inside your head.

    I’m working around the clock on the E-Course and hope to have it available in two weeks. Yes, I think you’ll benefit a lot from it as it will give you 24/7 access to answers to all the questions that you’re struggling with.

  • KD

    A few months ago, around the one year mark until my wedding day, is when I really started to do what you’re doing – over-analyzing everything. I felt anxious being next to him, because I wasn’t feeling the way I wanted to feel as a bride to be. I could barely concentrate at work, I wasn’t eating right, sleeping well. I decided that I didn’t love him, or at least not as I should love him (maybe I just love him as a friend). I cringed when anyone mentioned anything wedding-related.

    Right now, while I am still anxious and still think about this a lot, I am willing to accept my feelings, and willing to say that some how, some way, I’ll find my truth. 10 months away from my wedding, I am still not sure. Before being engaged, I didn’t pressure myself to feel a certain way in his presence. Should I have? Should have I questioned what being married to him would mean? Perhaps.

    Sheryl, look forward to the E-Course, and continuing to sort out my fears/anxieties and determine if I will feel this way no matter what, or whether this “just doesn’t feel right”, or both, in my case.

  • Cori – Another question for you: How are you responding to the thought? For those of us who are prone to anxiety, there will always be unwanted thoughts. The work is not about getting rid of the thought but about learning how not to give them power, to hear them but not listen to them, and be able to brush them off without giving them a moment’s energy.

    KD – Thanks for sharing that. Eventually, most women get to the point where they accept that there is no answer, there is only the choice to move forward or not move forward. When you can accept that uncertainty, a huge amount of spaciousness and freedom unfolds.

  • Cori

    Good question – I think that I am getting better at recognizing the thoughts as fear and as not real. But it is so hard not to give them power – they feel so real. I almost feel like if i am not giving them power, i am denying something inside of me that is very real and trying to tell me something. it is as if i am trying to make the relationship something that it isn’t. with the constant analyzing, it seems like if i am not constantly analyzing what im thinking or feeling about the relationship, i will lose control and have no feelings for him at all or completely lose interest in the relationship. the interesting thing is that with the analyzing, my feelings can go from positive to negative about the relationship in 0-60 seconds and then back to positive in the same amount of time. i need to figure out how i can relax and just be with him without the constant thinking and analyzing every move. but if im not doing that – how will i know how i feel about him or the relationship, because if that’s not based on your interactions or what the person does or says, what is it based on?

    hope that makes sense!

  • PJ

    Cori – I’ve had that same thought and thinking the “trying to make the relationship something that it isnt” Will be curious to hear Sheryl’s thoughts on this specific fear….

  • admin

    Cori – The fear thoughts do feel real because they are real – but they’re not the truth. And yes, if you don’t give them power you ARE denying something inside you – you’re denying fear! Right now fear – or anxiety or whatever you want to call it – has you in its grip. You are total victim to those thoughts. It takes courage to say, “I’m not going to listen to you,” and find our what you feel when you’re just with your partner without the running commentary. But when you’re fed up enough with the anxious thoughts, you might find yourself saying, “Enough!” the way you would with a child who’s acting out. Right now this wounded child has all the power and is completely running the show. It’s only when you stop listening that you’ll find out what’s underneath the thoughts.

  • TAL

    JP, your comment about hearing a voice in your head saying, “you don’t love her” really stuck a chord with me. When I was in the worst of my engagement anxiety, I had something similar–mine was a voice saying, “Get out. Get out. You know this is wrong.” I knew, though, that the only way to figure out what was going on was to ignore that voice so I could really focus on what my relationship WAS. I couldn’t run away AND figure out what was going on at the same time.

    I only figured out recently (after being very happily married for a year and a half, by the way) that that voice was my fear pushing back. I was so utterly terrified of the vulnerability I was feeling that I threw whatever I had at it. For me, that took the form of a nameless, formless dread, a feeling that kept telling me, “Something is horribly, horribly wrong.” But guess what? NOTHING was “horribly, horribly wrong.” That was just the strongest thing I could summon in a misguided effort to “keep myself safe.”

    And how did I figure that out? By looking, honestly, at my relationship–the things that made me sick to my stomach, the things I adored, ALL of it. And the more I allowed myself to feel what I was feeling, the weaker that voice got, and the more I could honestly and forthrightly assess what I really did and really didn’t like about my relationship.

    I don’t think we can look honestly at ANYthing when we listen to a voice telling us to runrunrun. Sounds similar to “you don’t love her,” doesn’t it? :)

    Good luck.

  • [...] Be Happy When….” on Conscious Transitions. Definitely a great reminder on living in the [...]

  • Mani

    All…thank you for posting your feelings on here. I have had many of the thoughts that I have just read. I have spoken to my friends/family about my feelings but noone could really understand. I consistently hear the same thing…that there is nothing wrong in my relationship. I have done a mental recap of all of my “dealbreakers” and my now husband (we just got married)didn’t have any of those but when it comes down to it i am still scared. I have spoken to several professionals about this and everyone says the same thing…that it has nothing to do with the person you are with but something inside of you that causes these feelings. I am currently working on trusting what these professionals say and taking a leap of faith that they are right. I have suffered from anxiety most of my life for one reason or the other. I’m trying to deal with the anxiety at the source and not focusing on what the anxiety is telling me. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn’t but I know these feelings aren’t going to get better with time as I seem to have many more things to worry about as I get older…so i’m really trying to work on changing the way I react to my anxious feelings.
    I hope this has helped someone as everyone’s messages have helped me.

  • Janelle

    Thanks Sheryl! I love this article. Most people would see a teacher’s summer vacation as a time of joy and just like the marriage transition. I’m guessing most people wouldn’t even think of summer vacation as a transition. However, it is a transition for me. It’s a transition that I’ve completed many times, but none the less, it is still difficult for me. I keep thinking that, when we get a house or have a baby, I won’t deal with this boredom then….”I’ll be happy when….” thank you as always!!

  • gabrielle

    hi sheryl this article is so good.i totally in and out of the site!my fiance is wonderful,yes he is not perfect as he does his acts of foolishness but hes such a lovely ,kind hearted person,hes the only person that really understands me and even though i told him im numb at the moment because i plagued my heart with fear and it just shut down and not just to him but to everything he told me hey hey its ok take it easy breathe breath no matter what im here its ok !that is when i realised he doesnt have to be 6 ft tall and buff to protect me and make me feel safe with him i am safe and deep down my love is kicking to wake up again!i also constantly compare us to other couples which seem happier i always had the thought il be happy when this il be happy when that,and at times due to the horrible thoughts of meeting prince charming in the future which are thoughts i hate i just block out and act so cold to him and want to run away ,i cant watch love movies anymore as i freak out im living a lie!:( but i have to just keep swimming and try to swim around the thoughts so that they lose control over me,i constantly search for reasons why ppl end relationships et divorced etc some ppl say its cause they fall out of love and it freaks me out because ppl expect to feel all butterflies and stuff constantly but in every relationship i had and this one is the best they flutter away,why are we exposed to such distortion to love?is it because we get married for the wrong reasons or symbolize love to be of a more superficial thing?i personally feel that if ur going to break up with someone because u fell out of love for that simple reason ,ur going to keep doing it over and over again until u end up 60 years old and then maybe maybe u would have learnt

  • Sam

    Thank you so much for your posts all and Sheryl, I’m so happy I have come across your site at this time of my life.
    I am engaged and to be married in December to my fiance whom I have been with for 9 years and engaged to for the past 3 years.
    Up until just over a month ago, my thoughts were to cancel the wedding as I had a “freak out” and thoughts of ” dont do it, this is not what you want, you love him but you’re not sure if you are “in” love with him? what if it doesnt work out? what if you are making a mistake? then Ive thought about what it would mean if we broke up and I feel like I’d split in two. He’s a great man and he gets me and vice versa.
    The what ifs may stop you from actually living the life and having these experiences. I guess my worry comes down to “what if it all goes wrong as I want that certainty that things are going to work out and it is the right decision”.
    As far as i can remember I have always had anxiety and it is about change – leaving childhood, growing up, leaving school, worrying about the future because I dont know what will happen. Its not something I can control and I keep trying to run away from it and I’m scared. So the way I’ve dealt with it all is to turn the blinkers on and plough through only for the anxiety to hit again and again without me dealing with the core issue.

    All of my recent thoughts have been fear based and I’ve learned to realise that its something within me that is causing these feelings,not the relationship itself.
    I can continue to keep chasing whatever it is i believe to be out there but then i’ve asked myself recently, what if the things I want to chase doesnt really exist? Where will that get me in 20 years time? The thing I’m trying to chase sits within myself.

    I find myself not being able to live in the present, always looking back at the past and being disappointed and worrying about the future. Never soaking up the experience of life at the moment. I guess thats what the mind of a person with anxiety deals with.
    I can identify with a lot of the feelings and thoughts that people have posted on this site. I have also bought the “Conscious Bride” and am currently seeing a couples counsellor to help us get through this time. Deep down I know I want to be with him, we just have to work together to achieve the things we want together to make them work. We are both supportive of eachother’s aspirations.
    A friend told me that to show true love is when you want to stick around when things get tough and you want to work through things. Like Sheryl mentioned
    “Love is an action, an intention, an act of will. It’s not a feeling”.

    So in those times when fear/anxiety grips me, I will try not to give it the power its craving. I’ll learn to open up and talk to my fiance so we can work through it together. It may be uncomfortable to do that at first but it has brought us the closeness and intimacy you want to feel in a relationship.
    Face your fears-its not as bad as you may feel they are, it will only be as bad as you make them out to be.

    Life, as they say is an uncertainty and I’ll never be able to fully plan whats going to happen I can only go with how I feel at the moment and if it feels right then go with it. I just realise now that i will have to deal with each day at a time and enjoy the present.

  • Toni

    Recenltly i decided it was time to try and see what the real reasons beneath these terrible anxious states and thoughts were. It was horrible, painful and sad and incredibly hard to do. I realised what gives me this crippling fear is the way i act towards my lovely kind and understanding partner. I have said before and i’ll say it again and again, my boyfriend really is brilliant, his acts of kindness towards me even at times when i’m being difficult or stroppy never fail to warm my heart and make me smile, he is gorgeous, extremely handsome, strong and can talk to anyone, he is fearless about how people perceive him, he honestly has taught me so much in the three years i have known him, yet i still have a problem…. and i hate myself for feeling this way. I will snap at him from time to time, sometimes when he says something i perceive to be stupid i’ll shoot him down or give him a disapproving look, i seem to lack respect for him and it’s only when he shouts back at me or puts his foot down with me that i will feel that respect for him that i so desperately want to feel. It’s the same with sex, like i’ve said he’s extremely attractive, but in my head i’ll find myself analysing how his hair looks or where he’s put on a bit more weight…i feel so so superficial and i hate that, i know it’s a terrible quality to have, it shouldn’t matter how someone looks or what they’re wearing, but as a consequence of not feeling this ‘respect’ i think is so important in our relationship i find it hard to get turned on and really enjoy sex.

    This lack of respect wasn’t helped by the fact that recently my lovely boyfriend went through a really hard time suffering with panic attacks and anxiety himself. I don’t know why but i just didn’t deal with it that well. Obviously i felt awful and worried about him constantly but i feel like perhaps i saw a weakness in him and it freaked me out. I know this all sounds horrible, i feel like a horrible person, because he’s just the kindest most loving person and doesn’t deserve to be treated badly in the slightest. I know he is the best thing that has ever happened to me, and i’d be mad to throw this away as i’d never find anyone or anything quite as amazing as what we have (My friends have all told me i’d be crazy to throw this away). i want so badly to give him everything he deserves and to love him without judging everything about him…i always used to have so much respect for him, but why is it that i’m feeling like this now? I’m worried perhaps i have fallen out of love with him slightly, but i so desperately don’t want this to mean the end for us. My head can be very negative and will force me to only see the bad things and focus on the ‘problems’ in our relationship, which i know is a very unhealthy trait of mine.

    I have read through a lot of your previous blogs and especially focused on the ‘falling out of love’ blog post. I really want to believe that even if i have fallen out of love, i can learn to love him fully again. I do love him more than anything and i’m fighting so hard for our happiness, but i feel so bad because i constantly feel like i’m lying to him and that he loves me more than i do him. This all just makes me so so sad, i can’t see how my once perfect relationship has turned into this, i just never saw these hurdles coming. there are no red flags in our relationship, we are both 100% loyal to each other and always will be, we’ve always been so honest and open with each other which is why i’m struggling with these thoughts and feelings, because i just feel i’m being so unfair on him. With all of this going on in my head i know i don’t feel as close to him, even when he tries to get close to me, i know this is my doing and i have driven a wedge between us, which fills me with sadness and despair.

    I really want to take your e course sheryl, but with the cost of my therapist i just have no money to do so at the moment.

    I just want to know that i can learn to love completely and selflessly again, because all the doubts in my head are just confirming my biggest fears, that this relationship will have to end and i will loose the best thing to ever happen to me.

    Sheryl – am i right in thinking i can learn to love again or would you say that my loss of respect ultimately only means that things are broken with me and my boyfriend?