Most people are familiar with the concept of happiness deferral. This is the belief that we will only be happy once some future condition is met. For example, we will be happy once we have achieved financial independence, or once we have a loving spouse, or a career that we cherish. The well-known trap of such thinking is that it is never-ending. The habit of deferring happiness is difficult to stop, and whenever we achieve the required condition, we simply create another, thus deferring our happiness to an even later date.
Although happiness deferral is well-known on a long-term scale, it is important to realize that it happens on smaller scales as well. In the medium-term, we have the phenomenon of looking forward to the weekend, or hanging out until 5pm, and it also occurs in the very short term. Many of us are in the habit of deferring happiness for periods of just 15 minutes, or even less, and this habit is equally harmful and harder to stop.
As an example, suppose we have a headache. We tell ourselves that we will start being happy when we’ve had a chance to rest, or when our painkillers have taken effect. But of course, if we do this, then there will always be something else to wait for. Our headache will go, but then we are hungry, or maybe we are holding heavy grocery bags that we want to put down. The actual condition is irrelevant – when we are in the habit of deferring happiness, we keep doing it. It really makes no difference whether we are deferring it for 15 minutes or 15 years, because in either case, we are not happy right now.
The only escape is to continually tell ourselves that now is the time. Not next month, not tomorrow, not in 15 minutes, but right now. It does not matter if we have a headache, it does not matter if we are hungry, it does not matter if we are holding heavy grocery bags. Happiness is something that must happen in every instant, every instant with no exception. The more we practise this, the easier it gets.