“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” ~Jim Rohn
Sometimes I feel like I’ve spent the better part of my life chasing after happiness. It always seemed like happiness stayed just a tad bit out of my grasp—somewhere in the future that I could always see, but not quite touch.
For instance, when I was a kid, I believed I’d be happy if I got an admission into a good college. In college, I believed that I’d be happy if I got a good job. When I got a job, I believed that I’d be happy if I got a promotion and a raise. And on and on it went.
Every time I reached a goal, it seemed like the next goal was where true happiness lay.
Sadly, this affected my personal life as well. I thought, “When I find a great guy, I’ll be happy. Wait, to be truly happy, we need to first get married. Being married is great, but we need to have kids to find real joy. Gosh, our baby needs to grow up a little so we can really enjoy being with her…” And so on.
For more than thirty-five years, I chased happiness on this path, not realizing what a futile chase it was.
And then, about two years back, I was abruptly jolted out of it.
One evening, on a day that had started out like any other, I found myself at the hospital with my three-year-old daughter in tow, waiting outside the emergency room that my husband lay in.
After a week at the hospital, my husband came out okay. However, it fundamentally changed the way I look at life.
For the first time I saw the futility of our chase. I still believe that goals are important and we should strive to achieve them. But now, I see them more as mile markers in life’s journey, not having much to do with happiness.
Happiness, it turns out, is not something we go after. It’s something already within us. We just need to clear up some clutter to find it.
The two years that followed have been an amazing journey of slowly letting go of some of that clutter in the quest to find the true happiness within. It’s still a work-in-progress, but here are the things I’ve been striving to let go.
1. Let go of trying to control everything.
The only thing that we can truly control is our own attitude and reactions. Once we accept that, we can find happiness right where we are, irrespective of how things turn out. This was perhaps the hardest but the most necessary part of the transformation for me.
2. Let go of trying to please everyone.
Every time we pretend to be someone, it takes us away from our true selves, and from our place of happiness. It was hard at first to stop trying to please others. Eventually I realized how liberating it was to dare to be myself!
3. Let go of the sense of entitlement.
I often found myself asking “Why me?” It was hard to replace that with “Why not?” After all, everyone gets their share of joys and sorrows; why should I somehow be above it and deserve only the joys?
4. Let go of resentment.
Unless we walk in the shoes of the other, we really don’t know the reason for their behavior. Carrying resentment only hurts us and delays any repair. I cannot tell you how amazing it’s been to let go of some of the resentment I didn’t even know I’d been carrying for years!
5. Let go of guilt.
On the flip side, if we are the ones who made a mistake, it is time to forgive ourselves and make amends. “I’m sorry. How can I fix it?” can go a long way in starting the healing process.
6. Let go of pride.
Neither apology nor forgiveness is possible without letting go of pride. Nor is there room for authentic connection where pride resides. Let it go.
7. Let go of perfectionism.
If I had a dime for every opportunity I squandered in the quest for perfection, I’d be rich! But no one can be perfect all the time. That’s what makes us humans. We are quirky. We have flaws. We are beautiful just the way we are.
8. Let go of negativity.
In any given situation we have a choice—look at what’s good and be grateful, or look at what’s wrong and complain. Deliberately adopting the attitude of gratitude literally changed the course of my life.
9. Let go of draining, unhealthy relationships.
We are the average of the people we hang out with, and if they are frequently negative, it becomes hard for us to maintain an attitude of gratitude. It’s been a tough call to distance myself from people in my life who were bringing me down, but it was necessary to move on.
10. Let go of the busyness.
Somewhere along the way, many of us have bought into the notion that the busier we are and the more we achieve, the happier we will be. After thirty-five years, I’ve come to realize that busyness does not equal happiness.
11. Let go of the attachment to money.
Money is definitely good to have, but once our basic needs and savings goals are met, it’s time to evaluate the tradeoff of earning more and more. Letting go of the need for money just for the sake of it has been a very hard but fulfilling experience for me.
12. Let go of the fear of failure.
Everybody who tries anything worthwhile fails at some point or the other. Failure does not mean we are broken. It simply means we are courageous to dare! Easier said than done, but I’m trying.
13. Let go of the fear of abandonment.
Fundamentally, we all crave for connection. But when fear of abandonment starts to rule our lives we make very irrational choices. I try to trust that what is meant to be will happen. And no matter how things turn out, we’ll come out of it okay.
14. Let go of comparison.
We usually only get to see the highlights reel of other’s lives. Comparing my behind-the-scenes to that has only made me unhappy in the past. It’s time for change.
15. Let go of expectations.
In the end, the core of all my issues was that I expected things to be a certain way. I expected what a good spouse or a friend ought to act like. I expected my daughter to behave a certain way. I expected how situations should turn out. Heck, I even had fixed expectations of what happiness was! Letting go of expectations has helped everything else start to fall in place.
16. Let go of yesterday and tomorrow.
And finally, how can we find true happiness if we are saddled down by the baggage of the past or fear of the future? Once I learned to let go of some of the above, I started to focus deliberately on today and now. Suddenly, music and beauty emerged from what was previously mundane. Is there a better way to find true happiness?
Letting go of something that is ingrained in our minds for years is hard. In my experience, even when I do manage to let go of something some of the time, at other times, it comes right back. In the end, it’s the journey that matters, right?
So, what will you let go of today?