"The reason people find it so hard to be happy is that they always see the past better than it was, the present worse than it is, and the future less resolved than it will be."
The quote above really speaks to me today. Lately my mind has been wandering into forbidden territory. Little by little, I find my thoughts creeping back to the past. They do it when I'm not looking, when I'm busy or sleeping or not fully paying attention, and then before I know it, I'm thinking backward, stumbling and tripping over my ideas because I'm going in the wrong direction. The trouble lately has been not only that I'm thinking about the past and spending way too much time there, but I've also been romanticizing it, imagining it in ways that are completely unrealistic.
Thinking about the past this way makes me long for it. I want things that aren't -- weren't -- even real. Clearly this is a problem for many reasons, but one of the things that bugs me the most is that I cannot control what I think about. I know this is normal. I know a lot of us have trouble controlling our thoughts, keeping them moving forward in a productive way. But, for me -- a slight control freak -- this drives me crazy. I want to be able to control what I think about, at least to some extent. I want to be able to turn off certain parts of my mind. No, actually, what I want is to be able to see things truly, honestly, as they really are/were. I have a way of seeing things through my own special set of Dani lenses. Ah the Dani lenses... not always a good thing. In fact, more often than not, they're a very tricky thing. Like magic, I can see things how I want to see them and it's hard for others to change my mind. I often see the world, situations, people the way I want to (and not necessarily the way they are) and, as you might expect, this causes a lot of problems for me (and the people around me). I'm not talking about completely misreading the world; I'm talking about tiny shifts in perception, little misinterpretations, that can add up to a big, big mess when put together into a single life.
Okay, let me be real with you here. What I've been thinking a lot about lately -- what's been driving me a bit crazy -- is my past relationships. With a pen and paper in hand, I can write down exactly why each of them ended. I can clearly identify what I did wrong (things I need to work on) and what I couldn't deal with in the other person (not my problem anymore). My brain knows that these relationships are over. My brain can clearly make sense of the situations. But my heart...my silly little heart...can't seem to stop posing those imaginary, magical scenarios of "what if..." What if we gave it another go? What if we started over in 5 years? What if I really worked on myself and came back to the situation with a fresh perspective? What if we're really meant to be? My mind -- the logical, sane part of me -- knows this is ridiculous. Things end for a reason and, with almost all of my relationships, I've given it a second chance too. It never works out any better the second time around (no matter how desperately I want it to). I want my mind and my thoughts to stay where they should be -- in a logical, matter-of-fact place --but I somehow find myself here, wondering, curious, experimenting in my mind. Does this happen to you too? Do you find yourself looking back at the past wistfully, imagining it as better than it was?
See that image above? I feel like that's me (and, no, it's not literally me). I'm looking through these lenses at the past and seeing these blue skies, these sunny days, when -- let's be serious here -- that wasn't always the case. Sure, me and my past had some great times. But there were very definite, clear reasons why things ended. It's not as if we were pulled apart by a war or separated by our feuding families. No, these relationships ended because they needed to end. However, I still find myself looking back on them with a fondness that does not seem normal. The other day I was just having a lovely little online chat with my cousin and she uncovered something that I'd written in an email to her last summer. On August 20, 2008, I wrote these words:
"I gotta get right with myself before I get into another relationship.
All of this jumping around has gotten me nowhere.
If you keep doing the same thing,
you're going to get the same results, you know?"
Yep, I said those words. I said them and, back then, I really believed them. But did I take my own advice? Of course not! I might not have taken my own advice last August, but now here those words are, coming back at me from the past, and I'm a bit in shock. Now, at this moment in time, my cousin is online (this is rare) and she happens to stumble across that particular conversation...If that isn't a sign, I don't know what is! I have an opportunity to hear my own good advice again and I need to seize this opportunity as a chance to let go of the past.
I believe that, for many people, the statement at the very top of this post is so true, and I especially see it in me lately. I believe that letting go -- even when it feels like the hardest thing in the world to do -- is critical to living a happy life. In order to let go, I believe it's essential not to do the things in the quote above. So, today, I will resolve to do three things: (1) see the past as it was; (2) look for the good in the present; and (3) realize the future will work itself out. And how will I do those three things? Of course I'm about to tell you right now!
Conquering Unhappiness in 3 Simple Steps
Step 1: See the past as it was.
This, I know, will be the hardest for me. I cannot help but see the past through these happy, sunny, Dani lenses. I remember all of the good (at least, when I want to) and none of the bad. I find myself wondering, "Well, if it was that great, why aren't we together?" It's always more complicated than that. There's always more in my mind than I'm letting myself see. I'm going to do what I must to make sure that I see the past as it was. There is an honesty and a truth in seeing things for what they are. It's hard not to distort your thoughts with emotions and outside influences, but it's important to give it your best shot. Here are some tactics I'm going to try:
- Write down the good and the bad.
- Remember all of the ways you could distort your thoughts.
- Ask others for feedback.
- Focus on your logic, not your emotions.
Step 2: Look for the good in today.
Of course, I'm always trying to do this one, but sometimes when my mind wanders back to the past and I think about how "good" it was then (was it really?) I find that I'm not focusing as much on today. I must remind myself to stay in the present. The past is gone and it's gone for a reason. Today is the only day I have and if I absolutely must focus my attention elsewhere it should be on the future -- on moving forward -- instead of the past. If I spend my time focusing on the present I won't have as much time to revisit (and rewrite) the past. It's clearly not easy for me to be in the moment all the time, but it's something I'm getting better at everyday. Here are some ideas how I can become even better at this:
- Be mindful of every day actions.
- Keep a Happy List or a gratitude journal.
- Apprecaite the people in your life now.
- Focus on the great things about YOU.
Step 3: Realize the future will work out.
This one ties in nicely with my last post about perfection. I have to learn to let go, to realize that the future will work out the way it's meant to. No matter what I do or how desperately I try to control the future, there are a lot of things that are out of my control in life and I have to let go. Accepting that the future will work out the way it's meant to is one of those things I really, really need to remind myself constantly. I'm not the kind of person who can easily let go of control, but I have to teach myself to do this, to accept that life will unfold the way it's meant to. If I do this, I know I will be a lot happier. Here's what I'm going to do to relax about the future:
- Learn to relax and let things be.
- Trust that things will work out.
- Believe that you have some control.
- Accept the things you cannot control.
Obviously there are many, many ways to conquer unhappiness, but I truly believe that these three steps lay a foundation for a happier life. If I were able to do all three of these things every day I can pretty much guarantee that I'd be living a happier life than I am right now. I certainly wouldn't be sitting around wondering why I'm not in a relationship that wasn't working out for me. There is a reason things are over. I know this. But it's not always easy for me to accept it. There is certainly a huge gap in my mind between what I know is true and what I accept. I need to jump the gap and realize that the facts are where it's at. I can't discredit my emotions -- after all, we all have them and they are useful for some things -- but I have to realize that I can be in control of the way I think. I might not be able to control situations or people or even the way I feel, but I can control how I think about a situation. I know that putting the three steps above into action will help me gain a more realistic perspective on the past, a better appreciation for the present, and a superior ability to accept what will come in the future.
What tactics do you use for letting go of the past?
What other ways can you think of to conquer unhappiness?