“People are always shouting they want to create a better future. It’s not true. The future is an apathetic void of no interest to anyone. The past is full of life, eager to irritate us, provoke and insult us, tempt us to destroy or repaint it. The only reason people want to be masters of the future is to change the past.” ~ Milan Kundera
“If you think you’re enlightened go spend a week with your family.” ~ Ram Dass
Every adult wants to live a version of what he or she imagines is “the good life.”
However, our versions of “the good life” are not only culturally contingent but also typically intense amalgams of reactions to the approval and disapproval that we received as children. As a psychotherapist I have observed that many people of my generation have default voices in their heads that tell them that whatever they do will not be “good enough.” This hedonic treadmill manifests as phrases such as “I’ll be happy if/when… (insert here home, job, relationship, salary, vacation, automobile or accomplishment).”
The cause of these voices is the wounded child inside of us continually seeking the acceptance of the people who withheld love or loved us CONDITIONALLY or in ways we did not understand when we were children. For as sentient beings we primarily desire one thing above all: TO BE LOVED UNCONDITIONALLY.
But we grew up in a highly-competitive society that provided us with tools to gain love CONDITIONALLY – because we are talented, good-looking, go to good schools, get good grades, write well, speak well, earn boatloads of money, take vacations in the coolest places, etc.
As children we created “false selves” – facades, personas – in order to try to obtain the acceptance, approval and love we craved. However, any acceptance, approval and “love” that we now receive as adults based on our facades – not on our inner and usually somewhat messy authentic selves – is ultimately unsatisfying.
Many people have become so identified with their facades that they no longer know who they are other than what it says on their business cards, resumes, Facebook or LinkedIn homepages, Instagram and Twitter accounts, or in Google searches of them. Some younger people even judge or score their lives on a daily basis by the quantity of social media followers they have.
One of the wonderful things about the mindfulness movement is that people learn to observe their thoughts without identifying with them. And once we take the first steps on the path to awakening we notice that the following 10 characteristics we developed in order to survive our childhoods may now be hindering us as adults from getting the love we really want:
10. We learned to create drama. Drama functions like fire to a petrie dish, allowing us to distill our pure emotions. But drama also pushes people away so now we need to learn how to express ourselves authentically and compassionately. Read John Gottman’s “The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work” and Marshall Rosenberg’s “Nonviolent Communication: A Language of Life” if you think it might be time to improve your languaging.
9. Even before we learned to speak, we developed attachment styles or ways of connecting to others (secure, avoidant, anxious, disorganized) and – unfortunately for most of us who do not attach securely – those attachment styles effect our current relationships. For example, if we attach securely to people and someone does not return a text or email we do not think much of it; however, if we attach insecurely to people and someone does not return a text or email our minds become suspicious and make assumptions about the person and relationship that may or may not correspond to reality.
8. Every culture has a list of transgressions – murder, rape, theft – as well as a gray area of remissions. Remissions are used to blow off steam lest the pot boil over and transgress its lid. Our culture’s remissions include alcohol, tobacco, sugar, salt, sex, sport-shopping, pornography, television, movies, violent sports (both playing and watching), video games – you get the picture. Be mindful of your remissions. Do not let them become addictions.
7. Forgive everyone unequivocally. Unforgiveness manifests as resentment (wanting things you cannot change to be other than the way they transpired). “Resentment is like poking yourself in the eye and waiting for the other person to go blind.” You are only causing your own continued suffering when you do not accept – nay, embrace – every moment of your life and who you are today. Own your life.
6. That said, “Good fences make good neighbors.” Forgiving people does not mean we need to include them in our lives. We have the right to exclude toxic relationships from our lives.
5. If you have ever attended one of my workshops you know that I teach an array tools scientifically proven to keep people at the high ends of their happiness spectrums; our best bet for happiness is to cultivate authentic loving intimate relationships; the best way to attract those relationships is to learn how to communicate authentically and compassionately (see #10 above).
4. When we have the choice of having an experience, learning something new, expanding our horizons, or buying a material possession, know that experience always trumps material possessions. On our deathbeds we will remember strolling the streets of Paris but we will not remember any baubles, trinkets or anything else we ever bought.
3. We must know what we need to fuel our bodies and keep these machines running at their optimum levels: proper sleep, proper food, proper amounts of interaction, and proper amounts of solitude and peace/calm are needed to operate at peak potential. Many people eat or sleep for emotional or psychological reasons or keep themselves pumped up on caffeine and sugar all day and then wonder why it is so difficult to sleep at night. Obviously, eating or sleeping (or avoiding either) for emotional or psychological reasons is unhealthy.
2. We must know what creative outlets feed our spirits, our souls, our higher selves (for atheists I use “mystery”). Do you love playing or listening to music? Do you love painting or admiring great artworks? Do you love nature and feeling united with the earth? Do you love the water and feel at home swimming? Everyone has something that nourishes his or her inner or higher self – looking at the Grand Canyon, preparing a sumptuous meal, running a marathon, writing a song, writing a book, etc. It is our responsibility to know what feeds our spirits. As Joseph Campbell said: “Follow your bliss.”
1. The glass is either half empty or half full (or overflowing.) It all depends on your perception and it is within our power to reframe our perceptions. Thus it is never too late to have a happy childhood. Anything your mind tells you “should have” been different about something in the past – something you cannot change – is an absurd waste of time. Instead, choose to think that you are supposed to be who you are today, your childhood made you everything that you are, and now we can decide which tools – such as gratitude, loving relationships, helping others, healthy living, etc.- bode most favorably for living our adult versions of “the good life.”