Stuff to give up if you want to be happy


photo by Jonathan Ogilvie,, used by permission

Happiness is often found hidden inside baggage we are carrying but should have abandoned long ago. They are, to be corny, suitcases of sorrow we’ve packed for the trip and we keep stuffing things in them. Well, here’s my list of stuff you can leave by the side of the road.

  1. The illusion that life is fair. It isn’t. Whoever told you it would be or should be was lying or grossly misinformed. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Some people “get all the breaks.” At some point the reality of life’s unfair unfairness will have to be faced and your expectation that life is or should be fair will need to be abandoned. Why? Because unless and until you can see things as they really are, you cannot creatively cope. When you see things as they are you can deal with them. If you are blind to them or refuse to acknowledge them, they remain and can prove debilitating at best, fatal at worst.
  2. Any idea that you are exempt. This idea seems to be especially prevalent in some quarters of Christian theology (along with #3). The idea is that you belong to a privileged group who are granted special favor and blessing and thus can escape the rigors and afflictions us mere mortals must endure. This line of thinking, when allowed to grow and encouraged by well-meaning but misguided mentors, produce some of the shallowest and callous people within religion. It produces arrogance and closes off compassion. You aren’t exempt and should not expect to be. For when the unthinkable and thus unexpected happens, you will be vulnerable and ill-equipped to deal with it. The expectation of and demand for exemption makes it very difficult for you to deal with the challenges of growing older, growing up, growing smarter, and growing wiser. For everyone, it seems to be part of human nature to expect that the issues that confront others will not confront us. But they will. You will suffer setbacks, loss, disappointment, hardship loss, joy, fulfillment, and happiness.
  3. That there are magic formulas which, when followed religiously, will break open storehouses of riches and privilege. This goes along with #2. You can speak positive things all you want to. Comcusme every positive thinking book you’d like, follow every gambling scheme you can conger up, but it will not guarantee you will win the lottery. In this same vein is astrology, tarot cards, fortune telling, and religious rituals of any ilk. Save your money, abandon superstition no matter how many Bible verses you wrap it in, and get on with living your life.
  4. The right to be right. Ok, let’s take a different path and deal with some personality quirks. If you have to be right all the time, you live life confrontationally not cooperatively. Happiness is not found in forcing everyone else to have things your way because that is simply impossible. Thus, even if you demand it you are not going to get it and that will make you upset. Out goes happiness. Secure people who are comfortable in their own skin can hold opinions and perspectives, strong ones in fact. They just don’t see every encounter as a crusade to correct someone else.
  5. The need to control. This has two dimensionsthe need to control others which is about as insidious as you can get. If you’re that type let me kindly suggest that you might seek professional counseling. Controlling people seldom have friends; they have weeded out strong associations and are left with sycophants and weak people who need to be dominated. Controlling people have obsessions that need the support of others as validation. The second strand is…
  6. The illusion that you can control your life completely. I am not at all suggesting that in order to be happy one must forsake planning, setting goals, or making and keeping appointments. In fact, the existence of those things indicates a person who has decided to accept responsibility for living a productive and fruitful life. It is the subtle suggestion that such plans, goals, and appointments can actually be always kept and that you can plot out your life on a straight line to success is an illusion. Life has ups, downs, ins, and outs. The military has developed a realistic approach when teaching their officers the art of waging war. They say that no strategy ever survives contact with the real world without changes because it is subject to unforeseen events and the independent will of the enemy. Well, the same principle applies to you. Plans do give us a sense of having me the unknowns and anticipations of life responsibility and get us moving toward concrete hopes, dreams, and objectives. In short, they give practical expression to purpose, without which no one can be happy. But they will not survive contact with the real world without modification because of unforeseen events and the independent will of the rest of mankind.
  7. Finding a reason for or an explanation of everything. This is an exercise in fantasy and an extension of the need to control because it places you in the position of a higher power who has found a reason for anything and everything that happens and can explain that to lesser beings. For Christians it’s usually the devil who is blamed or worse, some really odd interpretations of God and His ways. (I will write more about this in much greater detail in a future post because I have encountered this so much)
  8. Whining and complaining. Some people are naturally melancholy and might not actually be happy unless they are unhappy (I am not a psychologist so I cannot even begin to explain that.) But for most, whining and complaining is learned behavior. It can be overcome and will have to be. An unappreciative person is really, really miserable and wants to be sure everyone else is too. See my article on this here.
  9. Too many things, too much stuff, too many toys. Read Richard J. Foster’s book “The Freedom of Simplicity.” He is a Quaker and has tapped into a joy of living that we have crowded out with complexity. As Americans, we have too much stuff…and keep trying to get more. Happiness is not found in a new car, a bigger television, or a different house. Every new thing you buy will need maintenance, insurance, licensing, repair, attention. The pleasure it may offer is soon overwhelmed by the demands it makes. Do yourself a favor and get rid of stuff.
  10. Rigidity and familiarity. If you haven’t figured it out by now, here’s a hint. Life is a series of changes and modifications. You change as does everyone else around you. Fixations on the familiar do not yield happiness. They represent safety not happiness. This goes back to the need to control the uncontrollable. I am amazed at the people I speak with who want to pursue adventure while staying in a chain hotel eating at a chain restaurant. Adventure means embracing the unfamiliar.
  11. Making excuses. Life without failure is life without attempts. A genuine indicator of growth is when you can readily admit when you’ve not been successful and do so without blaming anyone or anything else.  See my article on The Loser’s Limp on my other blog. Happy people know they are not the best at everything… and do not have to be. They are able to accept themselves, try their best, give their utmost, and accept the outcome.
  12. The past. I dealt with this already here, but I want it on this list. Click back and take a look. There is no future in the past.
  13. Feelings of and demand for entitlement. These inevitably yield feelings of covetousness and resentment. It places obligations on others to fulfill our expectations of them and makes us angry or resentful when they don’t Let others have what they have. You deal with what you’ve got. See #1.
  14. Any pursuit of perfection. I’ve alluded to this several times in this brief article. Now I can be specific. No one is perfect. No one can be perfect. Do your best, accept the rest.
  15. That happiness is still somewhere out there. It is the journey, not the destination that holds the reservoirs of happiness. See my article on living life in the now.

Ok, that’s my list. What’s yours? What have you discovered needed to be given up in order to be happy?

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