I have been noticing more and more articles recently that have spoken to me as containing truth that I need to adopt. I don’t know if it is just a proliferation of better journalism, or if I have somehow changed recently (I tend to suspect the latter). Anyway, I will be adding a series on this website containing literature reviews (mostly articles, maybe a few books, and possibly other things)
I ran across an article yesterday in several places entitled 15 Things You Should Give Up To Be Happy, by an unknown author. Many of these points resonated very deeply with me as truths that I have either learned intimately very recently or have known for a long time and have never verbalized. The following is the list, with my comments. What amazed me is the interrelation of all of these ideas – the fact that they are not distinct, but blend together into a “whole” picture. I hope you get as much out of them as I did.
1. Give up your need to always be right. I had a General Manager that said to this, you can either be right or dead right. Others termed it “winning the battle to lose the war”. What it really boils down to is perspective. There will be an “after” to an event. During that “after” do you really want to be the person that was willing to sacrifice everything to be right or do you want to be the person who was wise enough to sacrifice being “right” for whatever REALLY mattered to them?
2. Give up your need for control. Control is a funny thing. The Buddhists have a concept called impermanence (in the Pali tongue, annica). The idea is that everything has a beginning, an existence, and an end. Once it has ended, that event never comes back. A similar one may come along, but it is never “the same”. This is true of thoughts, feelings, emotions, sensations, everything… Think about that for a minute. If everything we experience in this life really is impermanent, what is there to control? And how much happier could you be if you give up trying to grasp at something that is going to play itself out no matter what you do. This is not to say that we cannot enjoy things or participate in events while they are in existence It means that we do not cling to them to try to get them to stay artificially. That clinging is the root of all suffering. (See also point number 14).
3. Give up on blame. This is an interesting one because it is as much about choice as it is about self-esteem. The natural inclination for failure is to deflect, that is, to find an outside source. This is so that we do not have to admit fault. In western culture, we have done a fantastic job of cultivating the belief that failure is bad and equates to the individual being bad. Thus, no one wants to fail and when we do, we don’t know what to do about it. One of the biggest disservices we do our children these days is not teaching them how to fail correctly. Let’s face it, they are going to fail sometime. It’s what happens afterwards that really matters.
The other thing that blame is about is choice. Blame says that choice was taken from us and placed in another’s hands. This is contrary to natural law. Natural Law (or Truth) is that choice is always ours. It cannot be taken away, it must be given. Jesus Christ is the perfect example of this, “…Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me: nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42). Thus the premise relating to choice in blame is a fallacy, a lie that we tell ourselves to absolve us of responsibility for giving up our choice.
4. Give up your self-defeating self-talk. It is amazing how easy it is to fall into the trap of self-criticism. We want so badly to blame someone, usually out of habit (see point number 3), that if we can’t find a good target elsewhere, we’ll blame ourselves rather than let go. We all know it’s not productive to do so, but we do it anyway. Why? Because we are out of control and don’t understand the nature of such (see point number 2). If you want to look at it as replacing negative self-talk with positive, you can, but I prefer the idea of thinking of it like a sports game.
Gil Fronsdal, a Buddhist teacher in California tells a story of a retreat he and some other teachers did. During a break, they were congregated in a break room watching a football game. A commercial set came on, for which one of the instructors, muted the television. When the game eventually came back on, the instructor with the remote did not turn the sound back on (either intentionally or through forgetfulness). What happened was that Gil was able to watch a portion of the game without commentary. Amazingly enough, it was the same game. His perspective on it was no longer “colored” by the commentators, however. Self-talk is much like this. Our minds are constantly narrating our lives. This commentary is shaped by many different sources, and is occasionally useful, but here’s the thing: the commentary is not the football game. So too, our self-talk is not us. We can choose to not listen. When we do so, there is more time to focus on actually being who we’re going to be. Doing what we’re going to do. It’s amazing how much more productive we can be this way.
5. Give up your limiting beliefs You are a child of the Divine. You have unlimited potential. Why should you let yourself be weighed down by mere thoughts. See, limiting beliefs stem from a preoccupation with the future. If you tell yourself you can’t do something, it means that you have used our wonderful human talent of mental projection, looked into the future, and selected a possible outcome as likely. The thing is, though, that all this is is a thought. It doesn’t actually exist. The only hold it has over you is the hold you choose (see point number 3) to allow it to.
6. Give up complaining. Complaining and Blame are very closely tied. In general, blame is tied to a person, and complaining is tied to an idea. Both of them are equally uneffective and for the same reasons. Take back your choice and your self-worth. Don’t be afraid of sub-optimal conditions. Realize that there is a solution to everything. Since that is the case, you don’t have to make up a solution, you just have to find it.
7. Give up the luxury of criticism. This is one that I struggle with sometimes. To beat this one, I have to constantly remind myself that we are not our actions. We are something else entirely. This leads to the corollary that there is a difference between criticism and critique. Criticism may discuss behavior/ideas but it includes a personal element. There is some subjectivity. Critique is totally objective. Now, I have to fight first to remind myself of the good in people. Once I have done that, giving criticism is much more difficult than critiquing someone. The latter flows more naturally.
8. Give up your need to impress others. You have likely heard it said that self-worth comes from within, not without. Our culture, however, makes this one hard to internalize. May I humbly offer a way to start? Pick something simple, a task that you have been meaning to do but have not made the time for. Now accomplish it. Make sure that the task is simple and easily accomplished. You see, you did it right. Good on you. Now, do it again. And again. Pretty soon, the successes will be the majority of what you see (because you’ve designed it that way). Now realize that you did not need outside approval to get it done. So why do you need to impress others again?
9. Give up your resistance to change. I once worked for a company that had three rules we strived to live by. The third of these was: If you don’t change the input, you can’t change the output. There’s a very small book I’d recommend reading called Who Moved My Cheese, by Spencer Johnson. I know it’s a “business” book, but like all good Truths, it applies to a wide range of things. The bottom line is this: change is going to happen, whether you want it to or not (annica, remember?). You can learn how to deal with it, and yes, even thrive in it (and these are skills you can develop), or you can fret about it. Which is going to bring you more joy?
10. Give up labels. I love the quote that the author uses: “The highest form of ignorance is when you reject something you don’t know anything about.” Wayne Dyer. There are reasons that stereotypes exist. They can be useful in certain controlled circumstances. However, if we allow stereotypes to take over the lens we use to view the world around us, we will miss an unbelievable amount of important things. Look at things with fresh eyes. Find the uniqueness and the sameness. See things as they really are.
11. Give up on your fears. Fear is another interesting one. Fear, like limiting beliefs, lives in the illusory future. When I think about fear, I am always reminded of the passage from Frank Herbert’s Dune:
I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain.
The implication is that fear is simply a phantom. It can pass through us and when it does, it does not leave anything behind. Thus, there is nothing to actually be afraid of in the first place.
12. Give up your excuses. Excuses are, like blame, based in a fear of failure. Like criticism and critique, excuses often deal with events, while blame deals with people. The result, however, is the same.
13. Give up the past. I only slightly disagree with this. The past HAS a use. We need to be able to learn from the past. The trick is not to live there. In other words, let go of the preoccupation with past events enough to return to now. Then use the things you have learned from evaluating the past to make better choices in the present. This is often easier to do if you physically write down a list of things learned rather than keeping it inside your head (which has a tendency to run away on it’s own thought-tangents and keep you from now).
14. Give up attachment. Like the article implied, remember that attachment comes from a fear of the nature of impermanence. Realize that things are going to pass away and that it’s OK. Then use your choice in the now to increase the probability that events you want will happen in the future as a result of your actions. The more you practice this, the higher that percentage will be. This is what creates the self-perpetuating happiness that we call joy.
15. Give up living your life to other people’s expectations. Expectation is a bum deal. It assumes that you know the nature of what something is supposed to be like. That’s the illusory future again. Note that this is different than planning, in that there is clinging attached to a particular outcome whereas true planning is purely objective. You cannot assume that you know the nature of the future, and thus expectations serve no purpose. More practically, however, is the tendency that our expectations are idealized versions of reality and we hold them up as impossible-to-meet standards. What, then happens when we fail? Self-talk.
It’s important to continually examine our lives and look to see if our habits and behaviors are things that lead us to joy or away from it. The great thing about this life is that every day is an opportunity to re-invent ourselves, that is, to start to become a different person. It is NEVER too late to embrace happiness. It all starts right now. This is the essence of mindful living and why it brings such joy. Take a look at your habits. Do you see something that needs to change? Great! Start today to change it. Don’t know how? Get the resources that you need. Perhaps I can help. I’d love to talk to you about it in any case. Be well.
– Josh Walles
the Mindful Life Coach