Do you suffer from the "When..." syndrome?
When I get a promotion, I'll be happy. When I lose weight, I'll start going to pool parties. When things calm down, I'll learn to relax.
Or maybe you suffer from the "If..." syndrome.
If we had more money I would be happier. If I were married (or single), I'd have a better social life. If I had better in-laws, I would enjoy the holidays.
We've all done it, putting our happiness on hold until some magical future date when the big thing that we want happens and we'll give ourselves permission to be happy.
Here's the problem with that kind of thinking. The big thing may happen, and your life may get lots better when it does. But do you really want to put your happiness on hold until then?
Happiness isn't like the rain forest. You don't have to worry that you'll use too much and the planet will perish. Actually, the reverse is true. If you're happy before you get the raise (get married, lose weight, get divorced, etc.) you'll be more experienced in happiness, and more likely to respond with joy when even better stuff comes your way.
Happiness is like any other habit, the more you practice it, the more natural it becomes.
There are two big reasons why people postpone happiness.
First, we don't believe we deserve happiness.
Second, we're confused about what actually makes us happy.
The belief that we don't deserve to be happy is directly linked to some common misunderstandings about what actually makes us happy.
Here's what doesn't make you happy: wealth, material goods or fame.
We think that happiness is only for the rich and thin, but one need look no further than angst-ridden Hollywood to see that wealth and notoriety do not equate to bliss. Study after study has shown, once you get past meeting your baseline needs, additional money does not make you any happier.
So what does make us happy?
Research behind the award-winning film "Happy" and other happiness projects consistently reveal three factors that contribute to daily happiness:
Being part of something that offers a sense of meaning and purpose.
Spending time with family and friends.
Being kind and helping others.
As you look at the list, which of those things are available to you today, right now?
Chances are, you could experience all three within the next 30 minutes if you wanted to. You could call a family member or friend, pay them a heartfelt compliment and tell them that are you signing up to spend a day at the community food bank in their honor.
And you'd still have a few minutes left to thank the universe for all the other blessings in your life.
Look at the list again. How thin, rich or well-dressed do you need to be have those three things in your life? You don't have to be skinny, drive a nice car or even have a great job to experience these three things. Nor do you have to be married, single or have a big house with perfect kids, or any of the other when's and if's that you may have been waiting for.
The when's and if's are a mental game, but there's no real winner, only losers.
If you want to be happy today, right now, give yourself permission to enjoy the things that provide real pleasure. Be part of something bigger than yourself, spend time with family and friends, and be kind whenever you have the chance.
Happiness isn't a grasshopper vs. ant quagmire. You needn't live with wild abandon assuming that winter will never come, nor do you need toiling ant plodding until some future date when you can finally be happy.
Plan for the future all you want, but don't put your happiness on hold until it gets here. Start being happy today, you won't regret it.
Lisa Earle McLeod is the author of "The Triangle of Truth," which the Washington Post named as a "Top Five Book for Leaders."