Sounds easy enough, but what does it mean?
“Happiness is letting go of what you think your life is supposed to look like & celebrating it for everything that it is.”
Most of us have an idea of what our lives are supposed to look like, based on outside influences, culture, family history, media, societal norms, etc. Most of our lives are spent in pursuit of the ideal life defined for us by experiences as we are growing up.
We set personal goals that include things like:
- attend University, trade school, travel abroad
- have a prestigious career and rise to executive rank
- live in the city, suburbs, country
- buy a house, boat, car
- be a stay at home mom/dad
- be an entrepreneur
- live alone
- have children
- get married
- write a novel, play, poem, blog, song
- travel the world
- fall in love
Rarely, if ever, do our goals include things like:
- raise an autistic child
- bury a loved one
- be the primary caregiver of an aging parent
- declare bankruptcy
- love an addict
- live with bi-polar disorder
- put a violent child/family member out of your home
- get into an abusive relationship
- close a failed business
- get a divorce
- get laid off
- have a miscarriage
- suffer from depression
Yet, despite our best efforts and admirable attempts at the ideal, at some point we will face life situations that are not what we imagined for ourselves. When this happens, we have two choices. We can look at the situation and label it as sad, hard, screwed up, sucky, miserable, burdensome, hopeless, dismal, overwhelming, isolating. We can sit in a state of constant pity for ourselves, wallowing in the misery of our situation, believing no one’s life is harder than our own. Focusing on what we see as ‘wrong’ dulls what we think is ‘right’. In reality, there is no wrong or right, there is only what IS.
The second choice we are given is one of acceptance. Accepting our life as it IS in this moment is the pathway to happiness. Our monkey minds spin around labeling each experience hard/easy, good/bad, lucky/unlucky, success/failure. Accepting that every experience is exactly the experience that we need and every experience comes to us exactly when we need it, liberates us to find gratitude for our life as it IS.
Watching Alzeheimer’s slowly take my grandmother away, there were many days that I wanted to stay home and wallow in self-pity rather than sit with her. Most days she didn’t know my name, she rambled on about her childhood boyfriends and people I never knew. Finding gratitude in those moments saved me. I’m one of the lucky ones who was given the opportunity to know her grandmother as a child, carefree and silly. I became her girlfriend and we chatted about trips she had taken and men she had known. I learned to accept her in the moment, let go of expectation, and be grateful for what I had, not resentful for what I’d lost.
My father died of brain cancer. His illness gave me the chance to reconcile a difficult relationship.
My step-father died of colon cancer. Our conversations deepened and we left nothing unspoken.
My grandfather died suddenly when I was hundreds of miles away. I didn’t get to say good-bye but I never saw him sick.
The practice of acceptance is done moment by moment, day by day. Some days are easier than others. I look at empty relationships and feel sadness, desiring a deeper connection, but in that moment I remind myself to feel gratitude for the lesson, to accept what the relationships are and to release any expectations I have.
All sorrow is a result of our wanting things to be different than they are – the resistance to what IS. Releasing expectations does not mean that we give up hope. Hope is what remains when we surrender to what IS and celebrate all that we have.