Stop Saying "When I..." or "If I" And Radically Improve Your Life

Stop Saying “When I…” or “If I…” And Radically Improve Your Life

Note: This is a guest essay by Harriet Cabelly.

Are you right now telling yourself a story with a “When I…” or an “If I…”

For example….

‘When’ I finish school, when I get a house, when I lose weight, when I get married…. “


‘If’ I only had more room, if I had a better job, if I were thinner, prettier, if I had more money…… 

Guess what?

These “If’s” and “When’s” are all about your outside circumstances – and only 10% of your happiness is actually based on your outside circumstances.

That’s not just my opinion. It’s a perspective based on research from Sonja Lyubomirsky, psychologist and researcher in the field of happiness and well being.

Lyubomirsky came up with a pie chart representation showing the three main determinants of happiness:

  • 50% is dependent on our genes (genetic).
  • 40% is dependent on our behaviors, attitudes, beliefs, values, actions
  • 10% is based on our circumstance.

Surprise, surprise that only 10% is conditional on our situations. 

Who would’ve thought it to be so low considering we all constantly and naturally say, “when” and “if”….

But low and behold, these “when’s” and “if’s” don’t really influence our well-being and happiness as much as we might think.

How can that be?

Because these when’s and if’s are based in “externals” – which are outside jobs.

Our truest state of well-being is always an inside job. 

Sadly, many people believe that happiness is something which is an external condition. No matter how many suicides and addictions of the rich and famous people we read/hear about, we still haven’t gotten this notion that fame and fortune doesn’t seem to be cutting it in terms of happiness and well being.

We continue to buy the fancy packaging that all we have will equal all we feel.   But we see over and over again that success does not equal happiness.  Rather research is now pointing out that the opposite is true: happiness brings success.

Great news…

This “inside job” is also the 40% area which Lyubomirsky says we can control and work on!

Think about it. It’s our attitude, actions, and beliefs that are in our control,  that we can shape and create.  It is up to us to intentionally input that which will enhance our lives and bring meaning and joy. 

As ‘they’ say, happiness is a choice!    

One big factor that revs up our internal system are positive feelings.  Barbara Fredrickson, a psychologist who studies positive emotions, states that increasing this internal state helps improve our well-being and opens us up to new possibilities.

So how do we get some of that good-feeling stuff? 

  • Make time for things that bring you joy and pleasure, that put a smile on your face.  Create a happiness booster list, writing down all that you enjoy – from smelling a favorite scent to listening to music to dancing…… and pick one or two things each day to input.  These micro daily boosters add renewal and nourishment to your day. I dance most mornings by myself for a couple of minutes to upbeat music as part of my exercise routine.  What a positive charge!
  • Feel grateful by writing down a few things you appreciate every day, and then allow yourself to really feel the gratitude.  It’s easy to say, I’m grateful for this and that, but the key is to let the positive feeling rise up in you so it’s not just a rote exercise.   ‘WWW’ – what’s working well- is another way to frame it.    
  • Take on a challenging task or something that’s out of your comfort zone and then feel the pride.  I recently did something that sent me reeling out of my zone.   I gave a 2 minute book pitch at a book organization where I was in the company of quite a few known published authors.  Afterwards, I did a reality check and knew I wouldn’t get much, if any, travel gigs to speak about and sell my book, because I was up against so many others.  At first I allowed myself to feel pretty low and dejected. But then I moved into the ”Well, I did it and that says something; I put myself out there.”  I made happiness an inside job – and chose to feel a lot of self-pride.  And to this day I feel good about that.  That’s the internal stuff I’m talking about. 

Your mission…

Get inspired, by whatever does it for you. 

For me it’s stories of people triumphing over adversity. 

I love reading books written by inspiring people – and watching their movies – and most of all just listening to their stories. 

Plus, I work with people who inspire me as I counsel them through their challenges, as they cope and grow beyond.  

I’m a curator of stories of transcendence; and even created a book out of it.

Now it’s your turn…

  • What brings out those positive emotions in you? 
  • What makes you well up with awe, amazement, gratitude, joy, inspiration, pride?

Your inner spring will begin to take on new depths of richness and well-being as you purposefully choose to manage and work on that 40% that’s in your purview.

This essay is written by Harriet Cabelly, an author, social worker and positive psychology coach.  Harriet counsels clients as they cope and grow beyond their grief and adversities.  She is one of the coaching experts on New York’s AM970 The Answer radio show, Conversations with Joan, and has appeared on ABC and Fox news as a parenting coach.    She published (independently) her first book, Living Well Despite Adversity: Inspiration for Finding Renewed Meaning and Joy in Your Life. Find out more about Harriet by visiting her website and/or joining her on Facebook.

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Karen Salmansohn (Founder)

Hi I’m Karen Salmansohn, founder of NotSalmon. My mission is to offer you easy-to-understand insights and tools to empower you to bloom into your happiest, highest potential self. I use playful analogies, feisty humor, and stylish graphics to distill big ideas – going as far back as ancient wisdom from Aristotle, Buddhism and Darwin to the latest research studies from Cognitive Therapy, Neuro Linquistic Programming, Neuroscience, Positive Psychology, Quantum Physics, Nutritional Studies – and then some.

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