I was a little hesitant to write this post because I thought it might come off the wrong way.

“I paid off $127,000 of debt and I’m not happy”.  Cry me a river, right?!  What a terrible problem to have!

Let me start by saying that I am SO thankful that we’re debt-free.  Now that our debt is paid off, we’ll be able to do so many things that we’ve been putting off, like buying our first home (so excited!), traveling, getting another pug, and saving for retirement.

Paying off debt is a great goal to have, and I would absolutely encourage you to pay off any debt you might have.  That being said, I would also caution you not to believe that this will allow you to achieve happiness.

Paying off debt (or reaching any other financial goal) will not make you happy.

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Destination Addiction

Even if you’ve never heard the phrase “destination addiction”, you’re probably familiar with the concept.  We often tell ourselves that we’ll be so happy when we can finally have something we’ve been waiting for a long time.

You’ve probably caught yourself (or other people) doing this.  I’ve heard people say things like:

  • “I’d be so happy if I lived in that house.”
  • “It’ll be better when I retire… I just have to retire.”
  • “I’ll be happier when I find a better job.”

I have done this myself many times.  We delude ourselves into thinking that if we can just achieve [xyz goal], we’ll finally be happy.

We’re essentially addicted to the next best thing.  Instead of being happy now, we wait until some future goal is met before we give ourselves permission to finally be happy.  And are we any happier then?  No.

Problems are Forever

There was a time in my life when I felt like I would never be able to reach certain goals.  It didn’t seem like I would ever get married, find a good job, or become debt-free.

I thought if I could just find the person I wanted to marry, if I could find a better job, if I could pay off my debt…then of course I would be so much happier.

I now have all of those things.

I’m married to the love of my life, I have a good job, and I’m 100% debt-free.

Am I any happier than I used to be?  Not really.

Why is that?  Because life is hard and problems don’t magically disappear when we achieve our goals.  Natalie Bacon did a great podcast episode on this topic called When It’s Hard and Problems are Forever.

I no longer have “single person problems”, but I still have problems.  I’ve just traded “single people problems” for “married people problems”.

I no longer have the same problems I had at my old job, but my current job isn’t perfect and it has problems of its own.

I love this quote by Tony Robbins that Natalie mentions during her podcast: “Your biggest problem is that you think you shouldn’t have any.”

We have this strange delusion that everything will be perfect when we get the thing that we want, but that’s not reality.

It’s absolutely still worthwhile to pursue goals; just don’t tell yourself the lie that you’ll be happier when you get whatever it is that you want.

How to Actually Be Happy

As cliche as it sounds, happiness comes from within.  It is not determined by your external circumstances.  Brooke Castillo, life coach and founder of The Life Coach School (I LOVE her podcast), created a model that looks like this:

Thoughts -> Feelings -> Behavior -> Results

If you aren’t happy, it’s not because of the circumstances happening around you.  It’s because of the thoughts you’re having in response to those circumstances.

When I was in debt, I worried about money a lot.  Guess what?  I still worry about money.  I worry about how little I have saved for retirement, I worry about buying a house, I worry about buying a newer car… I could go on.

I wasn’t happy when I was in debt, but the debt itself was not the problem.

My thoughts were the problem, and my thoughts are still a problem.  If I can change the thoughts that I have about money (and about life in general), that is how I can be a happier person.

Separate Goal Setting from Happiness

There is nothing wrong with paying off debt or reaching other financial goals.  I absolutely encourage you to go for it!  Just don’t tell yourself that you’ll be happier when you achieve your goal.

Instead of being addicted to the next best thing, try to be happy now.  You don’t need to wait until you hit your goal.  You can be happy now, right this minute, by changing your thoughts.

I highly recommend The Life Coach School podcast if you’d like to learn more about how to change your thoughts and feel better.