Early this year, my youngest daughter was bed-ridden in the hospital. As her (already tiny) body tried to fight off some mysterious infection that nobody could quite peg, I just sat around anxiously feeling powerless. If you’re a parent, you know nothing comes close to your children being sick. It brings waves of emotions, worry and reflection.
During our first night, as I lounged in a stiff, plastic covered chair beside her bed, I tried to occupy my mind on something other than the current situation to relax (which actually led to this post). As I wrote those words, my mind attempted to reconcile the situation and find some sense in it. As it did, I began to feel embarrassed at the way I had been framing my joy and happiness just days before.
While I looked at my daughter sleeping peacefully, albeit tired and exhausted, I was given a very terse reminder of a lesson I’ve learned several times before but so quickly forget - avoiding “happy when __” syndrome.
As the week progressed and Baylor improved - I made a note to write down the lessons I learned that week. Far be it for me to remain reticent on any facet of my life, I decided to share what I more or less wrote down - the result of which you’re reading now.
Where We Think Happiness Is
I often thought about how proud I’d be when I made an app that had any modicum of success. To top the charts, have it written about or have actual users - imagine that!
And I was right….ish. All of those are incredible. But I often forget what else they are - fleeting feelings, transient and mutable highs.
An inconvenient inevitability about human nature is that we often convince ourselves that joy hangs within reach, but it’s just on the other side of something else we can see in the distance. And, when we do get there (often at the cost of other important things, like personal relationships, other hobbies - you name it) we get frustrated that the grass wasn’t greener after all.
But! Certainly we will be happy when other things come to pass.
I’ll be happy when I’m out of debt.
I’ll be happy when when kids are out of the crazy 2’s phase.
I’ll be happy when I have more room or a new house.
I’ll be happy when I have that new job.
I’ll be happy when it’s the weekened.
And, as indies - the “happy whens” can have gasoline tossed on the fire:
I’ll be happy when when I top the charts.
I’ll be happy when I actually make any money from my app.
I’ll be happy when people use my app.
I’ll be happy when someone cares at all about what I do.
I’ll be happy when my app is featured.
None of those things I listed above are arbitrary - in fact, they all are quite personal. Those are all from my own life! Every single one.
And for the most part, I’ve achieved them all. Quite foolishly, some part of me thought it would result in some sort of sense of belonging that I hadn’t quite found beforehand.
Where Happiness Actually Is
The problem with banking on the “happy whens” is that there is always another one waiting for you after you achieve the one prior, promising some sort of satisfaction that the previous one denied you. As such, looking at your life as a series of goals to overcome is a fool’s errand.
For example, my three kids under six deny me a lot of sleep. Surely, once they sleep through the night my life will improve! Ah - but then they will be older which brings a host of new issues. When they become wise enough to handle life and its complex situations, maybe then I can relax.
Or, maybe your “happy when” is financial. Once that situation improves, or our new job appears - then, we can pay off things or save more money. Surely, things will be better then!
The issue with this thinking is that we never arrive anywhere.
We so often look to just beyond where we are as the cure-all destination, where we can finally give ourselves permission to be happy. This is doubly true as indie developers, where we are in a perennial state of working towards that next milestone - in a constant state of overcoming obstacles.
But the truth is, there is no better time to be happy other than right now.
That week in the hospital reminded me that I needed to adopt a new perspective on happiness. Happiness is a choice, and it’s the only way forward. Celebrate your success, but don’t let your success (or lack thereof) dictate much on your quality of life.
Far better to enjoy life and its journey than struggle through it hoping that the next stage is better. These days, I do my best to keep that mindset.
My kids are crazy and wake me up all night?
I’ll look back at it fondly, because they’ll be grown up before I know it.
Spend Stack didn’t sell much last week?
That’s fine, there’s a lesson in there on how to improve it, or its messaging.
No time to work on Spend Stack at all?
Good, I could use more balance with how I spend my time.
You get the idea. But, I don’t want to conflate my message here, either. Hard work and success are both wonderful things, and I hope you encounter both. But, let those things be contributors to your happiness, not a source. It helps to frame your thinking the right way - instead of thinking “I’ll be happy when I top the charts!”, maybe try “I’ll be proud when I achieve that!”.
Whether you are king of the mountain, just beginning to climb it or perhaps you’ve been stuck halfway for years - enjoy each moment. All of these events aren’t obstacles leading to the next thing, or a segue to your spout of happiness you deserve. All of these obstacles are your life, and it would be a shame to not be happy while experiencing each of them.
I truly believe that if you give yourself a second to take a step back and survey things, you may realize that the best time to be happy and excited about the things you’ve got going on - is now.
And don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s normal to forget these lessons, I certainly do! But I’m trying to get better at coming back to them. No joke - indie development and its challenges are 70% mental, so don’t take things like this lightly.
I think this quote by Dr.Souza summarizes things nicely:
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin - real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.
Until next time ✌️.