The expectations we place upon life in our early years go a long way in determining our happiness. Certainly setting lofty goals and working hard to achieve them is important. But that is not the ethic promoted in the modern commercial world. We are led to believe that things come easily, we can avoid unpleasantness, we are entitled, immediate gratification is only a few dollars away and perhaps most delightful of all we are the focus of other peoples attention and interest. Moreover, when young, we assume that if we jump through the hoops of going to school, landing a job, getting married, having children, and making big bucks, we will live happily ever after. Life can seem so certain when we are young and look forward.
The world that is promoted presents a Pollyanna ideal in which people are physically perfect, apparently dont worry, are certain of their lifes course, always have fulfilling love and companionship, are secure in themselves, and seem to have abolished all negative aspects of life. Commerce exploits these fantasies by attempting to convince us that their products and services are the means to that end. Bodies are reshaped with surgery, closets bulge with every new fashion, impoverished ghetto children wear $150 sneakers, zillionaires surround themselves with the best that money can buy in an endless glut, and therapists are used as a substitute for personal reflection, learning, exercise of conscience and self-responsibility.
But as time marches on, an idealistic life is not our life. We make mistakes, we hate to take risks, we are uncertain, financial security seems elusive, there isnt time to interact properly with those we love, our face has a new wrinkle, our hairline is receding, problems continue to mount and we do not feel as though we are gaining more control, but rather losing it. When we contrast real life against the ideal we feel failure, inadequacy, bitterness, social alienation and hopelessness. All because we are chasing a fantasy, an unreal mythology about how life should be rather than how it is.
This is the reality:
· Pain, difficulty and failure are part and parcel of being alive. (Notice even movie stars, sports heroes, moguls and presidents face crises and tragedy.)
· The future cannot be programmed, it is uncertain.
· Any accomplishment requires hard work and dedication, both to achieve and maintain.
· Everyone is not looking at you, you are not the center of other peoples universe, and its not all about me.
· No matter what you do, you cannot avoid the above.
· All of this will never change.
We cant perfect life and then get it to stand still. Of course we would like to grip some experiences forever, such as our childrens early years of innocence, winning at sports, the love and adoration of parents, receiving an honor, being in love and good friendships. While were saving and savoring all these things, at the same time we would like to be able to remove the pain from the loss of a loved one, the incapacity of illness, the loss of a critical sale or game, or rejection by a friend. Confusion and uncertainty are season ticket holders on the roller coaster of life. Life is a flow of events, a never-ending succession of peaks and valleys. Although we may attempt to deny this and work against it, we will not succeed. But that is okay.
It is best to be aware of and accept lifes uncertainty. If we know we will be faced with the unexpected, then we will not be unduly surprised and can set about making the necessary adjustments rather than whining and beating our chests in despair. Much better to label events as failures, tragedy, successes or happiness and see them for what they are: momentary events that will be replaced with yet others. By not embracing too tenaciously that which will not remain (everything), we open ourselves to new adventures, challenges and joys.
When life is seen as a process, a dynamic with unpredictable curves, stops, reverses and new paths over which we may not have control, and yet also choices over which we do, we get a grip on reality. Part of that reality is that lifes uncertainty and challenges are what we need to become better people. Without forks in the road we cannot exercise choice and conscience. Without trying times we do not reflect on who we really are people who are here for the purpose of becoming better people.
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