My life is not perfect, but I am happy. Even in the face of parenting stresses, house maintenance, illness, weight gain, and other issues, I have joy and contentment. For the last two weeks, I’ve been extremely ill, but through it all I’ve still managed to laugh almost every day. Why is this? Because I’ve given up a few things, and I’d like to suggest that you can give those things up too.
Four Things to Release to Find Joy
The approval of others
I simply don’t care if I earn the approval of other people. Instead, I focus on relationships. I try to be kind and thoughtful; I strive to be courteous at all times. I do want to maintain mutual affection and respect in all my friendships and circles of acquaintance. But that’s very different from worrying about the approval of others. If a stranger sees me interact with my child and disapproves of my parenting skills, it has zero impact on me. And so I give it zero headspace and zero energy.
Think about all the things you do, day in and day out. How much of it is done simply because it is “expected,” or because it’s what you “should” do? The word “should” is almost always code for earning approval.
I used to be ambitious. I wanted to be famous and change the world, in that order. But I’ve released ambition. I don’t want or need to be successful for the sake of success. I haven’t given up on achievements, or setting goals, or wanting to make the world a better place. But I did let go of ambition: of the naked drive to achieve at any cost. Now I focus on doing the things that feed my soul, nourish my family, and make my part of the world a better place.
Perfection and Perfectionism
I was born a perfectionist. And releasing perfectionism has been a decades long battle, one that I fought using all the tools available to me. In college, I used to agonize the night before exams, studying and crying and stress eating, sure I would fail. After three years and a GPA that never dipped below 3.5, I finally came to the startling realization that my stress and focus on perfection didn’t have any real world impact. Regardless of what I did, I consistently performed at or above my expectations. So I let go of the idea of a 4.0 GPA. I stopped pulling all night cram sessions before exams.
After college, without the consistent feedback of grades, my perfectionism exploded. With no objective measurement assuring me that I was succeeding, I didn’t know how to be perfect. After many years, I started taking an SSRI medication, one which specifically addressed my anxiety and perfectionism. By eliminating my anxiety, I was able to see my perfectionism rationally. That gave me the confidence to live by the rule that “done is better than perfect.”
The desire to make things perfect is not evil. But the drive to create perfection at all costs is. Sting says it best:
To search for perfection is all very well.
But to look for heaven is to live here in hell.
Other People’s Dreams
Don’t ever do anything just because you “should.” Everyone has dreams and ideas for your life. And often those dreams are expressed as shoulds. For example, as a mom, there is a world of things that people want for you and me. They want us to discipline our children with love and positivity, without spanking or yelling. They want us to enjoy our children’s whimsy and lack of fore planning. They want us to eat healthily, exercise regularly, cook nutritious meals, raise our kids to be good citizens, and do all of that while being personally fulfilled and physically attractive. But what about what I want as a mom? What about what you want?
It’s easy to lose touch with our emotions and our own dreams. Often I work with women who can’t tell me a single thing they want for themselves, other than sleep. And once we’ve lost our desires, it’s just easier to fall into the dreams and wishes of other people, assuming that because the majority of moms want X, we must want X as well. But living by other people’s dreams is a recipe for stress.
Let go of other people’s dreams. Live out your own.
Are you living a happy life? What have you released in order to find happiness?