A thinking trap that we all fall into is believing that our life should be the same as we imagine it’s supposed to be. We imagine that there is this narrow path to happiness. One perfect path lined with success and riches. And since, in our minds at least, we are not on that idealized path, we must be failing somehow. Pain comes when we start comparing our lives to the idealized versions of how we think our lives should be.
We think we should marry a certain type of person, have a certain bank balance, a certain house, a certain weight etc. The problem is—you guessed it!—life just didn’t turn out the way you imagined. Here’s the catch: Life not turning out the way you imagined isn’t the real problem. It’s your comparison of your real life with the idealized picture that you have in your head that’s causing your suffering.
Disappointment doesn’t come because you took your family skiing when you wanted a beach vacation. Lots of people would be thrilled to go skiing. Disappointment comes when reality doesn’t match up with the picture in your head of how your life should be. We are slaves to our expectations, and when reality doesn’t match up, unhappiness is sure to follow.
Comparison is the kiss of death. If you love roses and someone brings you irises, and you can’t appreciate the irises because you are stuck on roses, you will miss the miracle and beauty in front of you. How much of our life is like that? Are you moaning, “My thighs are too fat,” while ignoring that your husband doesn’t seem to mind at all? Are you beating yourself up because you should have had kids when you were younger (or when you were older), while missing how amazing your kids are? Are you missing that ex, the “one who got away,” and thinking how they never would have done that annoying thing your spouse is doing, while forgetting all the terrible things they did do…and the small fact that your spouse adores you?
Any idealized version of life in your head is going to be better than real life—because it’s imaginary. Let me tell you a little secret: There is no perfect life. We are overweight. We get pimples. We lose jobs, we have accidents, we get sick. But that doesn’t mean that we can’t be happy. Again, our happiness doesn’t come from how perfect things are. Happiness comes from being present with what is: “Skiing with my kids is so fun!” or “Oh, these irises are so beautiful and vibrant!” Happiness is a state of mind that comes from within.
It’s okay to enjoy your life. Even if you’re not a size 4. Even if your husband is bald. Even if your kids aren’t at the top of their classes. It’s okay to love your life even if it’s not the perfect life.
People have this idea that if they are happy with what they have they will stop striving for better things. That’s not true. You can be happy right now, and still have goals…you just won’t be beating yourself up as you reach for them (and you’ll probably reach more of them faster, too).
OK, maybe your husband isn’t Brad Pitt and your wife isn’t Angelina Jolie (and even that Hollywood dream turned out not to be so perfect after all, right?). But you know what? You can love them anyway. They are real. The person in your head isn’t. If you think you can only love someone who will never disappoint or hurt you, then you will never love anyone.
Ultimately, loving someone is a choice that you make. It’s better to look beyond their weaknesses and frailties, their imperfections. (Just like you’d want them to overlook yours.) It’s just a lot easier to love them, warts and all. You’re not in denial. You’re just choosing to focus on the bigger picture.
Loving what you have, what is real in your life, doesn’t mean that you’re settling or that you’re a failure. It just means that you’re enjoying the ride.
None of us have perfect lives (including me). But I do know that when I get lost in incessant comparison—she’s got a bigger house, they go on more vacations, she’s thinner, their kids look perfect to me—I am miserable. Because I’m looking at everything I have as less-than or not-as-good-as, instead of enjoying the things that God gave me. Instead of enjoying the irises, I’m stuck on the roses. Whereas when I love those who are close to me, I feel deep happiness and contentment.
The life you have can be a wonderful life if you let yourself enjoy it. The life God gave you is really happening. The one in your head isn’t.
There is more than one path to happiness. Enjoy the ride.
Jewel Safren MSW, LSW, LCSW has over 35 years of experience in counseling, life coaching and public-speaking coaching. She has worked with people all over the US and in Europe, and runs popular personal growth workshops, webinars and classes. She is recommended by Rabbi Dr. Akiva Tatz; Rabbi Jonathan Rietti, B.Ed, M.Sci.; Rabbi Paysach J. Krohn; and Rabbi Mordechai Becher. She lives in West Orange, NJ, with her hubby and two kids, and has two married kids and two grandsons living in California. You can contact Jewel at 973-464-8556 or, if you would like to be on her mailing list or for more information, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.