If You’re Not Happy Here, You Won’t Be Happy There

by flowers on February 17, 2011 · 52 comments


Most people operate under the illusion that once they get what they want they will be happy. (I can hear you all right now saying, “but it’s true! I will be happy when….”).

This is conditional happiness and it doesn’t last. It’s good for a few kicks and you can certainly ride it out for a celebratory dinner or so, but most likely you’ll be right back to where you were before. If you were unhappy, you’ll still be unhappy.

It’s an easy trap to fall into and most of us do from one time to another.

I’ll be happy when:

*The family biz starts rolling and we have some extra $$$
*Nila finally cuts her teeth and sleeps through the night
*When we can move to a house with an eat in kitchen

Now it’s not to say that all these things aren’t legitimate milestones worth looking forward to, but it’s worthwhile to check-in and make sure you aren’t depending your happiness factor on it.

My Story: How I Learned this Lesson

When I was pregnant my oldest son, Solshine, I treated myself to regular cranio-sacral treatments. At this point we had moved back home to save some money and during this time a family member was diagnosed with a serious illness and we found out we were pregnant. These factors delayed our plan of moving and settling into a town we really loved–the town we wanted to raise our family in. I found myself resenting where I was based on where I wanted to be.

During one therapy session I became emotional and started to complain about how there was no food-coop , no farmer’s market, and no midwives. These were things I personally valued as an important part of a healthy and sustaining community and I was letting *not* having them bum me out in a big way.

The Wise Advice

She very gently suggested that the first step in having what I wanted was being happy with what I already had.

“If you’re not happy here,” she said, “you won’t be happy there. Even if there is a farmer’s market.”

She shared her personal story with me. As a holistic health care practitioner living in a very medically mainstream community she had often felt the same way. She received similar advice years back and it made a big difference in her perspective and general outlook on life. Now when she looks at her life she has exactly what she had always dreamed of. In her case it was a sweet little house, a partner who loves her, two grown-up daughters who lived nearby, and a job that she was really passionate about.

“But,” she said, “I couldn’t see those things when I was busy feeling sad about what I didn’t have.”

This struck me and I began to widen my perspective to include what was good about where I was at that moment.

Things like:

I’m happy here because…

*we have such great family support
*we’re in touch with old friends
*we get to drive out to the beach whenever want
*we get to spend our summer weekends at Stone’s family camp in the mountains
*we can choose to live here OR not! It’s not permanent

“We tend to forget that happiness doesn’t come as a result of getting something we don’t have, but rather of recognizing and appreciating what we do have.” -Frederick Keonig

The Shift

Within a year we rented a sweet little house on a back country road with a neighbor who shared eggs from their chickens with us. We were a few minutes from both of our parents’ homes, but only twenty-five minutes from the coast. We started making regular trips to the seaside even if it was only to get an ice-cream cone and take a walk. We invited our friends to a full moon potluck every month and created a sense of community for ourselves.

We were happy. Truly. We even considered staying and buying home there, but in the end we found that little town we had been dreaming about all along. Now we have the farmers market, the live music, the co-op and an amazing birth community.

Finding happiness in our present situation, even when it wasn’t ideal, helped us get here. It opened up opportunities that we couldn’t see before. Without the added stress or disappointment it was easier to identify and follow the path that worked best for us. It was also a matter of sitting tight and waiting out the present situation. Looking back I’m glad we have happy memories of that time.

Lesson Learned

Your level of satisfaction and happiness does not depend on external circumstance. Find happiness in your Here in order to be happy when you get There.

Tools for Getting Happy Now

*Daily Gratitude Lists
Do it in the morning or before you go to bed. It doesn’t matter when….just do it! Need a reminder? Set up a 280 daily account and they’ll send you a reminder to journal everyday.

*Take Action
What is it that you aren’t happy about? Or in other words, “I’ll be happy when…..” What can you do right now to fulfill that need (or at least get started). Taking action gives us a sense of empowerment. Can’t afford that addition on the house yet? What can you do to make living in your house more enjoyable: today. Make a plan. Take control.

*Take Care of Yourself
Exercise, fresh air and self-care. Yes, we all know this, but it’s easy to forget. (I do all the time.) Consider this your reminder ;-)

*Get Inspired
There’s a reason why Gretchen Rubin’s blog and book, The Happiness Project, is so wildly popular. We want to be happy. Read books and blogs that keep you inspired and in a healthy mindset. Surround yourself with people who uplift you.

So Let’s Talk.

What are you basing your conditional happiness on?
I’ll be happy when…..

And what do you have to be happy about in the here and now?

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

Carrie @ Oh Baby O February 17, 2011 at 10:45 am

I’ll be happy when we’re able to stop renting and move into our own house. *sigh* Thank you so much for this post! I really needed some perspective this morning! We recently found out we’re going to have to wait a little bit longer to buy and I was feeling a bit discouraged. While a house is going to be great, this place really isn’t so bad ;)
PS We’re pretty local to you (I do believe). *waves*


flowers February 17, 2011 at 2:42 pm

Oh Carrie I so understand that feeling. We are living in less than 850 sq ft and yes, we own it, but oh, it will be so nice to be able to move on.

Off to check out your blog :-) *wave*


erin @ exhale. return to center. February 17, 2011 at 3:10 pm

wow hillary!!! reading this was a kick in the pants.

a gentle, loving, totally inspiring one but a kick in the pants none-the-less.

thank you!!!!!!




mb February 17, 2011 at 5:24 pm

i’ve been really contemplating this A LOT lately. i feel like i get wrapped up in wondering if i’m “being here now” correctly. hahaha. my therapist jokes about remedial afterlife. it’s so awesome. but anyway, i have these visions of the future, of what i want, and sometimes i wonder if dwelling so much on them equates to NOT being fully present in THIS moment. i mean, i think i’m happy here… i think? lol. anyway, this is a really thought provoking post, thank you. :)


flowers February 17, 2011 at 5:32 pm

I hear you. My challenge can be realizing that you don’t learn these truths once and then you’re all set–you actually need to be reminded and live them over and over (and over).

I’ve come to understand being fully present in the moment as being prepared for the future and aware of the past. Not sure if that will make sense for anyone else.

And besides, we really love planning and dreaming our future. It feels good, it’s exciting and I think it’s really important. Just have to come back and ground yourself in the now.


mb February 17, 2011 at 5:43 pm

yup, that does make sense to me. i think that is sort of what i am experiencing actually. like checking in with myself about whether it’s “ok” to be planning for the future, and whether that means i’m laden with unhappy feelings about the now- and no, i don’t think it does necessarily (but it’s good to check that i think). and i agree, the planning IS part of the now and fun and important and… yes, all of it. :)


Maria February 18, 2011 at 12:23 am

Lately, I’ve been thinking “I’ll be happy when I have a job and know how I will be able to support my family once my maternity benefits run out and when all my hard work will pay off into a well paying job, oh, and also when my job will help me change the world” Wow, that’s way too much to wait for! I’ve really been struggling with stopping useless worrying and enjoy where I am and this post is helping, thanks!


flowers February 18, 2011 at 9:09 am

“…oh, and also when my job will help me change the world.”

Such big expectations we set for ourselves! I’ve found myself in a similar thought pattern dozens of times over. It’s like setting yourself up to be happy…never!

(But I do believe you *will* find that job, and it will be well paying and it will help you change the world!)


Amber February 18, 2011 at 12:51 am

I’m actually pretty good at not thinking some external thing will make me happy. Usually, anyway.

But I will admit that the idea of having another baby does fill me with longing. It’s like I’m hungry and I want a sandwich, only the sandwich is a 7 1/2 pound bundle of joy. But it’s an instinct, that longing, not really a belief I can totally get rid off.

That’s my excuse, anyway.


flowers February 18, 2011 at 9:07 am

I’ll buy this excuse ;-)

(Isn’t the biology of it just wild!)


Pure Mothers February 18, 2011 at 3:38 am

I needed this post today! We moved to London for a great job and needed this income and couldn’t stay in our dream place (Marin County, CA). But London has no sun, un-friendly people and everything come sin plastic. I’ve been having a hard time b/c I am due with our 2nd child in June and I am being shoved around like cattle at the NHS (free healthcare) even for a homebirth. Back home it was the peachiest, most wonderful homebirth experience from antenatal through post.

But I am going to try to look at things differently. I am going to re-read this post a few times too! Thanks for this Hilary!


flowers February 18, 2011 at 8:51 am

Awwwww. My heart really goes out to you Debra. For every pregnancy I experienced there was something I had to let go. It’s almost as if I built up the expectation of when I’m pregnant my life will somehow pull together perfectly. Things did work out, but not always in the way I had envisioned it.

And Congratulations! For some reason I missed that you were expecting again! I really hope you find the space and support you want and need for this pregnancy, birth and baby.


Rachael February 18, 2011 at 11:08 am

Yes, yes, yes!

It’s a realization I’ve come to again and again, in different forms. (I wrote about it here.) Somehow the realization never quite sticks, though. And so I suppose I will be coming to it again and again in the future, too. Maybe I’ll be happy when I stop looking for happiness somewhere else, somewhere in the future?


Kara February 18, 2011 at 1:15 pm

I am so grateful for this post today. I have been struggling so much lately with things that are out of our control — we can’t sell our house, which means another spring in a place where we feel trapped, in a place where we often feel misunderstood, and where we often feel like our children are missing out on what we would like to give them, and on and on …

I call is the (badword) spiral of thinking!!

What a wonderful reminder this post is that thinking like that is a choice, and I don’t have to keep making that choice every morning when I wake up. Thank you Hillary!!


flowers February 18, 2011 at 4:07 pm

You are very welcome. It’s just as much a reminder for me as everyone else. I do the kid one a lot, too. There is so much I want to give and provide for my kids.

We do our best. And I do think that is enough.


renee @ FIMBY February 19, 2011 at 9:26 am

I’ve wanted to comment all week Hillary. You are one of my favorite voices on the web right now. No flattery, just how I feel.

I agree with Erin. A great kick in the pants.

And the new header – love it! I’m so excited about the journey you are on Hillary (I say it over and over again) but because it reflects so much of where our own family is at I feel I can really identify with your message. I feel not so alone in our own beliefs and values. The things we want to do as a family.

Oh… I just found saw operation jump ship. Must go check that out..


flowers February 21, 2011 at 8:09 pm

Always humbled Renee, and always glad to be in such great company :-)


Jennifer Hamilton February 21, 2011 at 12:27 pm

I’m going to say what a wise woman once said to me…”You have to work at being happy”. Start working on it right now so that you will be happy tomorrow.


flowers February 21, 2011 at 8:11 pm

…and don’t even get me started on work ;-) Jk, I totally agree. Happiness, love, friendship….it all needs work and work is not something to shy away from.

Thanks for chiming in Jennifer. I appreciate it!


Michelle O'Neil February 21, 2011 at 7:50 pm

What a wonderful post. I agree with every word. Be happy where you are and enjoy where you are going.


flowers February 21, 2011 at 8:10 pm

Michelle just checked out your beautiful blog and family. So glad to have you stop by and say hello :-)


Kate February 23, 2011 at 9:14 am

I can absolutely never hear this enough! I tell people the same thing all the time, yet I still find myself having to master it over and over. This month especially has been challenging, so this post is a very timely reminder. Thank you, Dear Hillary! I just love you to pieces!


Momma Jorje March 1, 2011 at 12:18 am

Thanks for this gentle reminder. I personally had a major paradigm shift in the last 6 months. I’ve decided on a LOT of changes and have set things in motion. I’m an instant gratification kind of gal, but I’ve actually managed to be happy in the day-to-day and change what was just too much UNhappy for me.

I’ll be thrilled to move into an RV, but for now I’m enjoying living in a tiny apartment with my husband and daughter while we downsize our junk and make preparations.


flowers March 2, 2011 at 12:02 am

I sometimes find that the anticipation can be the best part. I remember while we were saving $$ for our big lifestyle switch I went to bed giddy at night. It was very exciting!

So happy for your big shift!


Amy Scruggs March 1, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I really needed to read this. Thank you for taking the time and congrats on being happy where you are!


Jill March 9, 2011 at 2:37 pm

I am new to blogging, twittering, and such – I have been to many sites over the last couple of months just looking things through, and I can say 100% yours is the one that has caught my attention – You do a Fabulous job!!! I look forward to hearing more from you. ~ Wishing you Happiness Where ever you are ~


Melodie March 13, 2011 at 1:51 pm

This is so wonderful Hillary, and to think I found it from a link to the Weekend Links to Simple Mom from a friend on Facebook who is not even remotely involved in our blogging community. I love what a small world it is! And thankful to be back here. I am not on my reader much these days and have missed my bloggy friends’ blogs. Yours especially. Your words always know how to lift me at just the right moment. Hugs,


flowers March 13, 2011 at 8:20 pm

Melodie! So glad you came by. I’ve missed your voice very much. Hope you are enjoying your offline time :-)


meghann March 13, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I’ll be happy when we can move back to Buffalo. I’ve been saying it since before we moved away in October.

I am trying to focus on the things I have here to be happy about—and I’m usually successful—but sometimes it’s hard to remember. I have two beautiful children and a wonderful husband. We are renting an adorable home that suits us perfectly. I recently found a playgroup for the kids that I love. I am slowly working us into a rhythm that carves out bits of time for me to work on things I want to do (among all the things I have to do). I really am blessed.

I needed to read this today. We just returned from a week at my parents’ house in Cape Cod & when we drove into town I was hit with this feeling of…dis-ease…that made me realize how much I do *not* like living here. I’m glad of the reminder to redouble my efforts to make myself—and our family—happy now rather than waiting for what I think will make me happier.


Terri March 29, 2011 at 7:31 pm

hello, I just read with interest your response, and thought I would respond with a reply. One option that may also help would be to think and be aware of the things you feel like you are missing in your life and then be able to pick some things that you can “add” back into your life. and go create new experiences too!

And remember: happiness is a state of mind… something you have the power to change! All the best…


Nan @ Playful Decor March 13, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Great post. I’ll be happ-ier when we sell our inventions to big-baby-company and make big bucks! :)
I have to say that at 46 I’m really happier than I’ve been in the past several years, mainly due to where we lived. I value your point to just accept the way things are but I do think some of us – not all – have this innate unsettling that if our local environment isn’t ‘right’ it leaves us desiring what we want (where we need to be). I was not happy where we were before – think: neighborhood fung shei was out of whack! Some people can live anywhere and then for people like me, the local environment counts 90%. I found the right neighborhood, we moved 6 months ago and I’m SO SO much happier, more relaxed. So I’m a believer in the “if you aren’t happy, move.” philosophy. At least it’s do-able…unlike waiting to win the lottery! ;) Great blog, I’ll be back!


Ellen March 14, 2011 at 1:29 am

I am living with my four children in the house I grew up in, with my mother. At first I was miserable here. I was snatched here by circumstances. This was NEVER in my plan.

Then I was happy that my children were happy here. They had good schools, good friends, and a good faith community, plus cousins!

Now I am happy here because I am making good things happen for myself (or maybe just LETTING good things happen!) here.

I still want to move back “home” to where I was before I ended up here, but in the meantime, I am blooming where I’m planted.


Natalie March 14, 2011 at 4:19 pm

What a wonderful post! I have been struggling lately with this stuck in a rut mentality. Everything feels wrong and I feel like once a few changes are made that our life would somehow be much better, brighter and happier. I am so happy to have found this post, because nothing could be truer. The other side always seems greener and I am certain that no matter where I am in life if I continue to have the same attitude, I will never see the greener side and will continue to keep searching for it. It is now just a matter of making the best of my situation and truly appreciating all that my wonderful life has to offer! Thanks for this!


Heather @ Mrs. Southern Bride March 15, 2011 at 8:46 am

How many times I have whispered those words to myself “I’ll be happy when”. Learning to live in the moment, and be happy where God has placed us, for now.


Pamela March 15, 2011 at 1:37 pm

I love this… I so often forget, and wish for more space in our house. We live in a 630 square foot house, with two kiddos and a doggie. But…. we have a beautiful back yard, I can walk to the grocery store and spring is coming! Thanks for the happiness reminder!


flowers March 15, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Wow! I’m so impressed! We have no pets, but three kids and are making it work in about 750 sq/ft. It has it’s challenges, but we love our location so we try to remember that when we’re feeling cramped.


Kiasa March 15, 2011 at 8:08 pm

We lived in Pittsburgh for a few years during my husbands graduate program. We often complained about the city’s problems and dreamed of living somewhere else. When we finally moved I was SO sad that I had wasted so much time and energy disliking the city instead of taking advantage of all the beautiful, fantastic gems it has. I’m hoping I learned my lesson. I’m amazingly happy while living in abt 600 sq ft with 3 kids in manhattan. I sincerely believe attitude is everything.


DJ March 16, 2011 at 2:32 pm

Now I feel all guilty. Thank you for this post because I’ve been complaining about living here since we moved in ’07. I just want to be closer to my family! Whew, that’s a long time to keep harping on the same thing. I’ve recently started to see the positive side but I still needed this reminder.


Karyn March 17, 2011 at 7:16 pm

Beautifully said!
I think that in many ways happiness is intrinsic-some people grow up generrally happy people while others really have to work at being happy.
Years ago I took a psychology course and one of the concepts taught was about happiness and a study that was done to guage how tragedies affect happiness. They found that although for a short time individuals rated their own happiness as lower following an accident that caused them to be paralyzed, within a year their self-declared happiness levels were no differnt than those that did not live through a tragedy. On the other hand, although those who won a lottery stated that they were happier for a short period, they did not rate happier than those who did not in the long term. I think of this lesson often, and often really ponder whether what I am hoping for will really make me happier.
With that being said, I think that we all have hopes, dreams, goals and things that we look forward to and strive for, however, sometimes it is the journey to these things that truly makes us happy.


Tanya March 24, 2011 at 3:49 pm

Thank you for this. I’ve been working on this for a while now, though mostly very happy and grateful for all the things wonderful in my life, and they’re many, I’m not living where I want to be geographically and it has caused me heartache over and over. When the heartache takes over briefly, I feel ungrateful and selfish and the cycle continues. I have to stop and reflect on lessons you clearly mentioned in this post and like in other things in life, it’s nice to know you’re not alone and to be reminded there are ways to make the days of heartache disappear more quickly to make room for happier ones. I love the tools for getting happy now and will be implementing some into my days:-).


Terri March 29, 2011 at 7:43 pm

Good post Hillary! I was told to check this post out, and I am glad I did. It is often times hard to think of the positives when you are concentrating on the negatives. A shift in thinking is doable though, just takes practice!


Heather T. May 26, 2011 at 6:28 pm

This reminds me of the phrase “bloom where you’re planted”. When we have no control of our circumstances, we always have power over our response. That can make the difference between being a bitter woman and someone who others are attracted to and want to share joy with.

My current “if only”s…

If only I could get pregnant … Response: I can be a foster mom
If only I could afford a two-bedroom apt so I could foster … R: The longer we live in a studio the more money we save–and the quicker we reach our goal. I allow myself a little splurge fund so that I can surround myself with drawings, plants and other bits of beauty to give me the stamina to live here and not there.

Thanks for the post! I’ll be back. :-)


Kirsten July 14, 2011 at 8:12 am

What a wonderful post and a great reminder. And I love your comment “My challenge can be realizing that you don’t learn these truths once and then you’re all set–you actually need to be reminded and live them over and over (and over).” so true!
I generally consider myself a pretty happy person, but I still do fall into the “everything will be easier” trap (everything being parenting mostly!). And I do think really understanding this is also key to reducing consumption – that actually, having that bigger house (for instance, and not at all my own heartfelt wish or anything!) isn’t necessary for daily happiness.


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