How to Be Happier By Accepting More and Expecting Less
As we emerge from Covid quarantine, many of us are putting the “pedal-to-the-metal” in our pursuits of happiness. After all, with what we’ve endured, don’t we deserve a little light-hearted satisfaction?
As in our pre-pandemic days, we’ll spend time and money on gym memberships, fantasy vacations – even counseling – intent on achieving contented lives. Yet, despite all this seeking, is happiness truly our intended destination?
As a therapist, I work with individuals serious about improving their lives. Yet, during this process, I regularly run into clients who are reluctant to move past their personal struggles. As strange as this may seem, even the most motivated among us can be fiercely resistant when asked to let go of irrational thoughts and unhealthy behaviors that are holding them back.
This reluctance to resolve their unhappiness is often based on a fear that doing so will remove purpose from their lives. Ironically, it is not the events in their lives but often their lofty and unrealistic approaches to these circumstances that have them stuck and struggling. People justify their unhappiness for a common reason: they believe misery is a motivator.
I once counseled a public figure who wanted help managing his long-term, low-grade depression. Despite his stated objective, he let me know with sincere conviction that his pessimism had been a massive contributor to his success. When I responded with curiosity – asking him if he ever planned on enjoying the abundant life he had created – he stared at me blankly…
It is our dissatisfaction (not our goals) that most often overwhelms us.
Although nonsensical, people often mix up happiness with laziness and acceptance with resignment. For irrational reasons (usually held since childhood), we determine that setting down our struggles and accepting (vs. expecting) means that we give in to mediocrity and give up on fulfillment.
However, “Accepters” are not couch-dwellers incessantly avoiding life by watching reruns (this behavior is usually reserved for the overwhelmed of us). Instead, Accepters are realists who have checked into their lives by using who they are to contribute to the greater good.
Through actively integrating both challenges and successes into a more extensive understanding of our completeness (even if we haven’t reached our goals), we ensure, at times, challenging, often fascinating, but constantly enriching life experiences.
“Turn your face to the sun, and the shadows fall behind you.”
– Maori Proverb
- What if you decided that you were enough for right now?
- How would it feel knowing you deserved to be happy just as you are?
- What would happen if you stopped proving or defending your worth?
Accepting “what is” allows us to focus on being actively happy instead of the problems getting in the way of our happiness. Think of how expansive life experiences would become if negative self-perceptions weren’t in the way.
Gratitude is a way to dance with life – and when we dance, we’re free.
As we take this unprecedented opportunity to again commune with one another, let’s not hang onto worn-out ways of relating. Instead, let us pay attention to what’s unfolding right in front of us – and use these as fresh perspectives as opportunities to enjoy happiness.