Dear therapist,

I feel a little sheepish even writing you as it may seem like I don’t have a problem at all. I have a great job, healthy and happy husband and kids, and a nice home we’ve made together here in London. And yet I find I am never satisfied. I always have my eye on the next goal, whether professional or personal. My husband says I need to learn to be happy with what I have, and maybe he’s right. But it can feel like settling when I see friends and colleagues achieving so much more. Why shouldn’t I want more for us too?


Perplexed perfectionist

Dear Perfectionist,

You sound like you may be under the spell of what is sometimes called ‘if only’ thinking. This is a common syndrome in our achievement-addicted culture and looks something like this: ‘If only I get that job…that promotion…that raise…that house, then I’ll be happy.’ We make our happiness contingent on an ever-increasing list of criteria. 

The problem with this is it implies we’re starting from a place of ‘not okay’ as it is which is both demoralising and untrue. So we live in a sort of dis-ease with ourselves that makes it almost impossible to be content. And this has knock-on effects – when we are feeling ‘not good enough,’ we tend to hold ourselves back which makes it difficult to connect with our work and in relationships with others. We are so wrapped up in being better than we are that we struggle to be who we are; we become overly focused on our self-improvement project rather than being engaged in, and with, the wider world.

Having goals and ambitions is laudable but we set ourselves up for endless anxiety when our standards are so high they are approaching perfection; when we strive for an ideal self, a version of ourselves beyond what is humanly possible. We need to stop treating the magical thinking of perfectionism as a kind of humble brag and recognise it for the fantastically destructive force it is, one keeping us unnecessarily mired in guilt, frustration and unfulfillment. 

A focus on gratitude helps get us off the hamster wheel of ‘never enough thinking.’ Get in the habit of regularly scanning for what is working in your life. Even if it feels a bit unnatural at first, merely having the intention to be more grateful is a useful starting place and shifts our perspective. Appreciating what is already present counterbalances our tendency to fixate on what is lacking.  

Finally, recall that ‘comparison is the thief of joy’ so watch social media scrolling and anything that has the mind wandering to how fabulous someone else’s life is. Remember what we see is a glossy, highly-curated version of others compared to an intimate knowledge of our perfectly-imperfect selves. Is it any wonder we’re left wanting? Catch yourself in the act and redirect your attention to the many wondrous aspects of the life you are already living.  


Do you have a question for Dear Therapist? Send it to [email protected] with Dear Therapist in the subject line and Charlotte Fox Weber or Kelly Hearn will get back to you.

Further reading

Envy and FOMO on social media: escaping the cycle

Why success isn't everything

The downsides of perfectionism

Perfectionism, anxiety and self-hatred: how are they related?