Hope for your financial life and beyond

The “If Only” Game Creates Liars Of Us All

Hidden Nuggets #27 “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding; For her proceeds are better than the profits of silver, and her gain than fine gold.” – Proverbs 3:13-14


“If only I had this car then I’d be happy.”

Ever heard of the “if only” game? It’s played like this:

Step 1: Look at your current life situation.

Step 2: Figure out all the junk going on that you don’t like.

Step 3: Use the information from Step 2 to fill in this statement, “If only I could change ________ then my life would be great.”

Step 4: Repeat Step 3 as new negative circumstances warrant.

We play this game all the time:

“If only I were out of debt then I’d be happy.”

“If only I had a bigger house then I’d be happy.”

“If only I were in better shape then I’d be happy.”

“If only my kids would behave then I’d be happy.”

“If only my boss would get off my back then I’d be happy.”

“If only…If only…If only…”

The “if-only” game promotes a lie – the lie being that circumstances produce happiness. The dangerous aspect of this lie is that we project into the future and base our happiness level on a hypothetical situation. In other words, we dream of happy life scenarios based on events that have not and may never occur.

Who knows whether or not happiness would actually come if those events unfold the way we think they should.

There are “if only” lies for all facets of life. In the personal finance space for example, the granddaddy of them all remains “if only I had more money then I’d be happy.” Honestly, how many of us have said that to ourselves at least once? Count me guilty.

I’m glad the Bible debunks this lie. In the proverb I mentioned above, we are told that wisdom and understanding bring happiness to a man, not riches. While riches have their value and provide us with many luxuries, they will never satisfy that inner longing for happiness and peace.

Living Through Unhappy Times

People who believe “if only” statements set themselves up for a life of poor decisions and voided opportunities. Since they believe the end game of life is happiness in all circumstances, they avoid situations that cause pain and suffering. They run from adversity and conflict instead of persevering through it and solving problems.

Instead of grinding through the debt, they look for get rich quick schemes.

Instead of having patience with a co-worker, they quit their job and move on.

Instead of prayer, communication and counseling with their troubled kids and spouse, they file for a divorce.

Living through an unhappy time hurts. It’s not something to relish. We are often unaware as to why we are going through it and see no end in sight.

But maybe there’s a reason we’re there. Could the challenging time be a character building season? Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned or a relationship to heal or a spiritual enlightenment waiting to happen.

We might never know if we cut our losses and run. Maybe all we need is one more day’s worth of perseverance for the breakthrough to happen and the tide to begin turning.

I can see how that bigger house might provide some legroom for the family. Perhaps with the debt gone you could take that bigger vacation you’ve dreamed of. Maybe your boss does have it in for you. All those and many other tough life circumstances could be absolutely true.

But to think we would be happy “if only” they were not so is a lie.

What “if only” statements are you making right now? How do you fight the “if only ________ then I’d be happy” philosophy? What’s the toughest personal finance moment you’ve persevered through?

Image at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Next Post: The Basics of How to Pay For College

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  1. I really don’t do that because it’s such a passive thing. It’s like sitting and wishing for things to change without actually taking action. I think he toughest financial thing I’ve been through is getting laid off and surviving as a freelancer in LA.

  2. I’m definitely a happy person, and I don’t really play the if only game. One thing I do tend to do though is look at my life, consider opportunities and experiences that I don’t want to miss out on, and find a way to get there – my happiness doesn’t depend on these things though.

  3. I think that one reason why it’s so hard to fight the “if only ________ then I’d be happy” philosophy is that we all have a tendency to compare ourselves with others. The problem is that so many times what we’re really making a comparison with is just a facade masking someone’s true situation and life-satisfaction level.

    Like you said, the grass isn’t always greener ‘over there’ and many times we are exactly where we are supposed to be. And if we can persevere and work through it, we may realize that there is indeed a time to every purpose under the sun.

    • Oooh yes…”the comparison trap”…definitely leads to us making “if only” statements. The issue with comparisons is the same as the issue with “if only” statements…we don’t really know the other person’s situation. It’s only perceived as we look at it from the outside. They may very well be miserable and we’d never know.

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