Written by Polina Igorevna Lynch
I remember the time when my husband and I were on our honeymoon in Egypt 8 years ago. There were lots of activities offered to the holidaymakers, but I clearly remember that I didn’t participate. I thought my body was not toned enough to enjoy pool parties. I told myself when I get fit, I will enjoy beach holidays more. A few years had flown past and me and my husband took another trip abroad. I looked at couples with children having family dinner and thought, “when we have children, I will feel more fulfilled”. I can come up with more examples when I said to myself, “when I get or do something, I will be much happier”.
Interestingly, this cognitive phenomenon has a name. It is called delayed life syndrome. This term was coined by Russian professor Serkin in 1997. The professor studied psychology of people living in the north, who survived by hoping for a better life away from a cold and fierce land (Serkin,1997).
Sarkisyan& Vlasov (2020) write that this syndrome is not a mental health illness but a way of thinking and behaving. They also note that people with this syndrome constantly prepare for a happy and fulfilled life, but they never quite get there. Furthermore, when a person’s goals and plans are not fulfilled, one starts to feel inadequate and suffers significant blows to their self-esteem. According to Sarkisyan& Vlasov (2020), the population affected the most is between 20-40 years old. A young person often believes that they still have enough time to start the life they’ve always wanted. In the meantime, they have enough on their plate and enjoying life while living in the present seems a waste. The future, on the other hand, seems brighter, more stable and secure. Their motto is: “when I have a bigger salary and a stable relationship, I can start enjoying my life. A person with delayed life syndrome usually has one or two life goals (build a house, get married, lose weight, etc.) that will magically make him happier.
The researchers looked at the factors that are associated with this syndrome. The first is low self-esteem when one believes he is not good enough to have his desired life. They say to themselves: “I need to earn more, look better, be more independent etc.” The second factor is “tunnel thinking”, where one becomes obsessed with a specific goal. This goal can be an obsessive desire to lose weight or earn more money. Daily life loses its importance and becomes like a never-ending waiting time. Researchers stress that while life goals are positive and affirming, thinking that life will suddenly transform into a carefree, happy existence is counterproductive.
The third factor is pursuing someone else’s dreams and goals. If parents prioritize social status, money or looks, one can believe that they must follow a specific path to be successful and happy. Social media can also influence individual’s goals. Have you ever looked at someone’s Instagram page and felt a pinch of jealousy?
The last one is a misplaced locus of control. When people have a high external locus of control, they do not believe they can change or achieve anything. For them, external factors like other people, luck or fate hold all the cards. If one has a strong internal locus of control, it means they fully rely on themselves. While internal locus of control is associated with life resilience and healthy life style, it can cause frustration in some cases. There are many external factors that play significant role and it would be wrong not to take them into consideration.
So how does one cope with this syndrome? Becoming aware of a problem is a huge step towards its solution. If you notice yourself “living” in the future, not having realistic goals and often thinking of yourself as a failure (because you haven’t reached them)– then you probably experience a form of a “delayed life”. Sarkisyan& Vlasov (2020) argue that we should not stop dreaming but try and make some dreams into realistic goals. If you have a future plan, it should have stages. When you reach a stage, there will be a feeling of accomplishment, which increases self-esteem. You probably noticed that a lot of things in psychology revolve around how we feel about ourselves. If we feel we deserve a happy and fulfilled life that is not built on material things, we become resilient. Year 2020 showed us that we need to learn how to live in the present, make plans and set goals, but do not let them define our happiness and self-worth.
Sarkisyan, N., & Vlasov, E. (2020, July 28). How to cope with the delayed life syndrome. Snob.Ru. https://snob.ru/moskva-i-moskvichi/chto-takoe-sindrom-otlozhennoj-zhizni/
Serkin, V. P. (1997). Social and Psychological Sources of North-East of Russian Migration. Personality in Extreme Conditions, 2(1). https://publications.hse.ru/mirror/pubs/share/folder/pb7vdqj3i4/direct/69300282.pdf