We people can be odd creatures. We want to be happy. We want to be fully and authentically ourselves. At the same time, many of us want everyone to like us, to approve of and even admire us. I’m here to tell you that stuff doesn’t all pack well into the same picnic basket.
The Declaration of Independence we all studied in school was a strong, no nonsense document. It didn’t ask for freedom, it claimed it. It didn’t whimper or say pretty please and its follow-through didn’t hinge on whether breaking free would be popular with those who’d previously held the reins. Essentially, it said: Screw this. We have had enough and we’re outta here. Oh, and while we’ve got your attention George, screw you, too.
There’s a lot of good stuff in those famous paragraphs. There’s some crap, too (“…the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.”). In all the great and bad, there’s one line that stands out to me. “…all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
That last part is worth reading twice. It means we humans are inclined to suffer for as long as we can stand it before we fix the circumstances which cause our misery, simply because we get used to being unhappy. That’s crazy, right? Not just lazy, but foolish and crazy.
Most happiness-stealing situations creep up slowly, making it pretty easy for us to get comfortable with misery. Baby steps toward a wretched life. And we are almost always active participants in sucking the joy and authenticity out of our lives. More craziness. We, hoping to build and maintain reputations as nice people, make small but habitual choices aimed at pleasing others and crafting delightful public personas, even if those choices are in contrast to who we know we are. Even if they cause us to play small and deny the truth of our greatness. Even if they smother the voice in us that longs to sing.
I used to do exactly that, long ago. I was an extraordinarily well-behaved child who brought home stellar report cards. I didn’t sass my parents and I lived in constant pursuit of perfection. Teachers adored me and I made my parents’ lives easier than my siblings had. What a nice girl! The truth, though, is that striving for perfection is a sure path to misery. Once I realized that and got over the idea that everyone (or really, anyone) had to like me, my happiness quotient increased dramatically. I decided to simply be myself—my lovely, flawed, sometimes winning, sometimes losing, beautiful, perfectly imperfect self. I abolished the forms of suffering to which I had become accustomed.
We can be happy. We can be fully and authentically ourselves. Or we can strive to have everyone like us, approve of us, and admire us. I don’t know about you, but when I pack my basket, I choose only the stuff I find most delicious.
~*~ Today’s images courtesy of pixabay ~ Free and fabulous. ~*~