‘If only’ two small words.
‘But‘ a really small word.
Although small words, ‘if only’ and ‘but’ have a big impact on how we think, how we feel, what we do and the extent to which we are happy.
“If only I had more money, I’d be happy.”
The person who says this is postponing their happiness by linking it to a specific condition (having more money). They believe that they cannot be happy until their financial situation improves.
“If only I had a partner, I’d be happy.”
This thought reflects the belief that happiness is dependent on being in a romantic relationship. Unless this condition is met, I cannot allow myself to be happy.
“If only I had a different career, I’d be satisfied.”
This thought reflects the idea that satisfaction is dependent on pursuing a different career path. The person not only delays her satisfaction but will not even explore an alternative on the weekend as she is under the spell of her own statement.
For a Vedanta student,
” If only I did the intensive residential 3 year course in an ashram, I would get moksha.”
This thought suggests that moksha is dependent on doing a course. The truth is that one is already muktah. As long as there are sincere studies, classes, retreats and other sadhana including japa and Sanskrit that the person is engaged in, he/she will gain moksha. Our beloved guru Pujya Swami Dayananda ji who designed our 3 year courses in the gurukulam once reminded us that he had not done a course like some of us.
Would it not be nice to have more money if you have less? A partner if you don’t have? A different career if you are a misfit in the current career. An intensive course in Vedanta if indeed time and life situations were conducive?
Sure these are desirable situations especially when linked with life priorities. However, to delay and postpone your happiness only after these conditions are met and wallow in misery is to be unfair to yourself. Don’t you think?
“If Only” is the Idealist ‘s Trap:
The phrase “If only” is a staple in the vocabulary of perfectionists, dreamers and idealists in all of us. It often sets the stage for impossible standards and unrealistic expectations.
When we say, “If only I had more money,” or “If only I were thinner,” we are essentially drawing a cause – effect relationship between the desired result and one’s happiness. This conditional cause-effect relationship of happiness is a mirage that keeps us running, panting and exhausted, never quite reaching the oasis.
‘If only’ can be a double-edged sword. While it can drive us to strive for excellence, it can also lead to chronic dissatisfaction.
‘If only’ makes us focus on what is lacking rather than celebrating than focus on what is present. This constant comparison between the present reality and an idealized version of it breeds unhappiness.
Breaking free from the “If only” trap requires a shift in thinking pattern. Instead of obsessing on what you lack or what needs to be better, focus also on what you have.
It is different when one says “I already have x money which provides for the family and I would certainly want to get more money as it will help me do y.
I express and receive much love with family, friends, pets and co-worker. I would also like to have a partner to share my life with.
My current career is not satisfying. It pays the bills and helps me save money which will help me take a sabbatical or try out an alternative a few months or years down the line.
I am cognisant of both truths
See what a difference these statements make. See how holding both aspects of my situation help me to expand my perspective, change my thinking and actions and make me happy, relatively speaking.
See how the process of striving and working towards your goals contributes to your happiness.
Another word that delays and sabotages our experience of happiness. ‘But’
“I had a great vacation, but the weather was terrible.”
The word “but” in this statement diminishes the positive experience of a great vacation by highlighting the negative aspect (bad weather). This person is allowing the weather to overshadow (pun intended) the overall joyful experience.
I love my job, but my co-workers are so annoying.”
This person is allowing the annoyance to overshadow their love for their job.
“I’m proud of my achievements, but I should have done more by now.”
The use of “but” in this statement downplays and diminishes the pride the person feels in their achievements by introducing a self-critical element (feeling that they should have accomplished more).
“I love spending time with my family, but they can be so demanding.”
The person is allowing one trait of the family to eclipse the love and joy of spending time with family.
It is different when one says that –
I love spending time with my family and they can be so demanding.
I’m proud of my achievements and sometimes I feel like I should have done more by now. When I think back, given the time, wisdom and resources, I tried my best or Then, I did not have the wisdom and experience I have now. I can also strive for more achievements.
I love my job and sometimes my co-workers can be annoying. When I look at all aspects of my job – the money, the perks, the opportunities to travel, the skills I am learning and some of the co-workers, it seems ok.
If we so desire happiness, why do we delay or postpone our happiness ?
Belief in conditional happiness: Many people believe that happiness depends on certain conditions being met, “I’ll be happy when I have a better job, more money, a partner, or better circumstances.” This mindset creates a perpetual cycle of postponing happiness because there will always be new conditions or goals to meet. Once you reach your goal, you will move the goalpost.
Societal Pressure and external validation: Every society has norms of behaviour and conditions for happiness. The next time someone asks – How are you? And you reply – I am happy. Watch the person’s reaction. It is likely the person will be surprised and ask – How come? And want to understand the reason again perpetuating the belief that happiness is possible only when a condition – either internal or external is met. In some cultures, there is an emphasis on working tirelessly and delaying happiness and enjoyment until retirement or some distant future point. An example of external validation – Only when my father in law approves of my job, I will be happy.
Comparison with Others: We postpone our happiness by constantly comparing oneself to others. Social media helps. ‘If only, I had the looks, intelligence, wealth, fame of the other person, I would be happy.’ It is good to have benchmarks that inspire us. When we magnify these very benchmarks or role models we diminish our own strengths and do not allow ourselves the contentment of being on our own journey.
Fear of Disappointment: Some individuals delay their happiness as a protective mechanism. They fear that if they allow themselves to be happy in the present, they might be disappointed if things don’t turn out as expected. The awareness of the cyclical nature of events, they turn into fear. This fear of disappointment can lead to a cautious, reserved approach to experiencing joy. Haven’t you heard people saying – zyaada hason mat, baad me rona padega (Don’t laugh too much. Soon you will have to cry) Or zyaada khush hone ki zaroorat nahi hai. Baad me dukh aayega.(You need not to be too happy. Later sorrow will come)
Idealistic standards: Idealists set extremely high standards for themselves and believe they must achieve these standards before allowing themselves to be happy. If only I would be rich and famous…But I am not so talented…Since idealism is an unattainable goal, they perpetually postpone happiness. Only Bhagavan is ideal and infallible, capable of no defect.
Overemphasis on Future Goals: We postpone our happiness because we believe that happiness will descend on us only after we have achieved our goals. In believing so, we miss out on the happiness available in the present. People who are obsessed with their goals often forget to savor the journey. It’s like constantly living in a state of “What’s next?” rather than appreciating “What’s now?”
Difficulty in appreciating the Present: We can get caught up in our daily routines, worries, and anxieties, which prevent us from recognizing the small, everyday connections of delight that surround us – the sound of our parents snoring, the cacophony of children in a school bus in the traffic, the sight of facial hair on your teenage son’s face, the fragrance of parijaat flowers in the park, the rising sun, the door-bell sound of your loved one.
Guilt: Some individuals feel guilty to be happy because people around them are suffering. Yes. We certainly need to be sensitive in our expression of happiness around people who are suffering.