Why “Happily Ever After” Is a Curse

We all know that “happily ever after” is a myth, but how many of us are unknowingly still live by it? And I’m not just talking romance.

Happily-ever-after-disney-princessHonestly ask yourself whether you think:

– Once you’ve achieved a certain income, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you’re self-employed and no longer have to work for someone else, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you have the child you long for, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you have your dream house, you’ll live happily ever after.
– Once you retire, you’ll live happily ever after.

I think a lot of us have bought into this myth and don’t even realized we’re living our lives based on it. We give up enjoying the moment in order to chase whatever think we will make us live happily ever after.

After achieving a goal that we think will make us live happily ever after, it doesn’t take long before we start feeling dissatisfied. When this happens, we think there was something wrong with that goal we had just achieved, that it wasn’t enough. We then go on to seek out another goal that we think will make us live happily ever after. Sacrificing our lives to achieve it and then circling back to that familiar disappointment.

In reality we create our lives in cycles.

  • We complete our initial education (one cycle). Then go on to create our career (the next cycle).
  • We date and find our soulmate (one cycle). Then go on to create the life we want with our partner (the next cycle).
  • We develop a career we love (once cycle). Then outgrow it and find the urge to try something new (the next cycle).

There is no one goal that once we achieve it, we’ll live happily ever after. If we embrace this natural cycle of creation, then when disappointment arrives, we know it’s just the first step to our next cycle. We can use that disappointment to help us find the next thing we want to create.

We sacrifice a lot for a goal we think will make us live happily ever after. If accomplishing it did just that, the sacrifice would be worth it. But if we look at goals as part of a continuous cycle—achieving and relishing one goal will eventually lead to new ideas and new goals—would we be willing to sacrifice in that same way? Or would we instead seek a way to attain our goals while still enjoy our life in the process?

Most people think of a habit as something unhealthy we need to quit, like smoking cigarettes or watching too much TV or staying up too late and not getting enough sleep. But in reality most of our habits are beneficial, like brushing our teeth, eating breakfast, cleaning up after ourselves. If you think about it, we actually have more good habits than bad.

The benefit of a habit is you do it without thinking. If you have the habit of brushing your teeth every morning, you don’t think through whether you’re going to do it. You just do it.

The habits you have determine the quality of your life.

But as we change and grow, some of our habits will need upgrading. A habit can be so ingrained in us that we don’t even realize that it no longer fits. Taking a trip is a great way to become aware of which habits no longer fit. Traveling typically breaks us out of our routine and many of our habits.

Camping book For years, I didn’t take the time to read for pleasure. I only read for work. Last fall we went on a camping trip. On one of the evenings, my husband and I decided to hang out in our camping chairs, with headlamps on, reading our books. I loved it. It was so peaceful and relaxing. Since that trip, I’ve established the habit of reading for pleasure 3 to 4 evenings a week. I love it.

Traveling can also help you realize which habits you value most and want to nurture even more.

When I travel, the typical breakfast is a bagel or pancakes with orange juice. The refined flour and lack of protein and fiber ends up making me feel sluggish and just plain yucky. At home, I eat really healthy, well-balanced breakfasts and feel great. On one trip I realized I wanted to feel as good on vacation as I did at home. So from then on, I packed my healthy breakfasts and brought them with me as I traveled. It’s made a huge difference in the quality of my trips.

Habits can be a positive thing in our lives if we examine them periodically and make sure they are supporting the life we truly want. We’re creatures of habit. We might as well take advantage of that and use our habits to create what we really want in our lives.

 

Image courtesy of Simon Howden / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Transformational Goals Will Raise Your Issues

When I pursue a transformational goal, because it’s transformational, I inevitably run into my issues. An example is when we decided to build a custom green home. Here’s a few of the issues it brought up for me:

  • How to make big decisions with my new spouse in ways that worked for both of us.
  • How to have a good relationship with our builder and workmen while still getting the high standard of work I wanted (i.e. how not to be too bossy nor too lax).
  • How to let go of my perfectionism so we can build our house in a reasonable time frame.
  • How to make important decisions quickly when I was used to take a long time to think over these types of decisions.

When an issue comes up while I’m pursuing a goal, I have 3 choices:

house building interiorMy first choice is to ignore the issue and try to attain the goal anyway. This typically leads to pain. The process of attaining the goal becomes treacherous. Many times I don’t even achieve the goal. The times I do, the victory is hallow and isn’t very sustainable (like yoyo dieting). And to top it off, the issue I ignored later arises to give me trouble again.

When building our house, I could have neglected taking the time to work with my husband on decisions we disagreed on and instead bullied my way or just gave in to his desires. As our builder warned, building a house together can destroy a marriage.

My second choice is to totally focus on the issue and forget about the goal. Of course, this doesn’t bring me much closer to achieving my goal. If I do resolve the issue, I can refocus on the goal but when another issue comes up, I’ll be side tracked again. There will always be issues and with this approach, my progress will be incredibly slow.

When it came to building our house, I could have insisted that my new husband and I go to seminars on communication and work on our decision-making skills, waiting until I thought we were perfect enough to take on the monumental challenge of building a house together. But doing it that way, we probably would have never built.

My third choice is to address the issue in a balanced way while still focusing on my goal. This has been the most effective approach for me. There’s a reason the issue showed up. It’s an issue that, in the past, had blocked me from achieving similar goals. If I address the issue and keep my focus on the goal, I not only resolve the issue that’s been holding me back but I actually achieve a goal I’ve been wanting to achieve.

Life experience can be one of the best teachers. Working on our relationship skills while we built our house turned out to be perfect. We held onto the belief that if we brainstormed enough we could find a solution to every decision we initially disagreed on. And we did. Building our house together actually strengthened our relationship rather than weakened it.

Staying Empowered When Receiving Advice

I think getting advice is so valuable, but it can also have it’s pitfalls. One of the things I do to get the most out of advice is to be aware of where my adviser is coming from.

There are people who give me advice who have no experience doing what they’re advising. This doesn’t mean they can’t give me good ideas, but when I’m considering whether to implement the their advice, I remember that they’re talking in theory and not based on personal experience.

Advice womanThere are people who have a stake in my choices—what I decide to do will effect them. Because of this conflict of interest, I’m careful with what they have to say. They are more likely to recommend choices that will benefit them. This still doesn’t mean I don’t consider their advice, I’m just aware of the bias that may be there.

I used to think people with personal experience in what I’m inquiring about and no skin in the game were the ideal people to get advice from. Since they wouldn’t be effected by the outcome of my decision, I thought they’d be more objective. I was more likely to blindly follow their advice.

Then I realized that since they won’t be effected by the outcome, they may not be as concerned about the consequences of their recommendation. They may casually give me advice that really isn’t a good fit for my specific situation or encourage me to take bigger risks that don’t fit who I am as a risk-taker. Both can have disastrous consequences.

So my conclusion is that every source of advice needs vetting. There’s no advice I can just blindly follow.

This means more work for me, but also means more empowerment. My decisions and consequences are truly my own. I’m a lot happier and more confident when I make decisions this way.

When I blindly follow someone’s advice, and it doesn’t work out the way I wanted it to, I tend to feel resentful towards them. That’s a sign that I gave my power away to them.

Even though it would be nice to blindly follow an expert’s advice or plan and not have to take the time and effort to really think it through, our decisions are really our own. And when we acknowledge that and act accordingly, we become empowered.

 

Image courtesy of artur84 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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