What If This Is As Good As It Gets?
I was talking with a client last week who was trying to explain to me why she has hung onto a jar of her children’s saved baby teeth. “Well,” she said, “I was so happy when the kids were little. And then my marriage went south and I wondered if the time of the baby teeth might be as happy as my life would get.”
I was surprised at how this statement resonated with me. There was a time when I, too, had wondered the same thing. Was there a limit on how much happiness I could ask for?
I grew up with parents who believed that “coping” well with life was the best that one could do; that fielding the balls batted at you was the aim of existence. And they did have reasons for that belief. They grew up in difficult times and were always trying to manage in ways they felt were right. But as a result, they weren’t able to prepare me for a lifetime other than the one they had known.
It wasn’t until I was in my late 30’s that I became aware that there were other possibilities open to me. I started to believe that maybe happiness wasn’t doled out in increments. Maybe there were things I could do to increase my level of happiness. Maybe I had more control than I realized.
I had thought that my happiness was completely dependent on external circumstances. If my partner was happy, if the sun was shining, if there was money left over when we paid our bills, I could be happy. And then I read about Victor Frankl. He was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist as well as a Holocaust survivor. His book, Man’s Search for Meaning, chronicles his experiences as a concentration camp inmate and his method of finding meaning in all forms of existence. He said, “The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance…When we are no longer able to change a situation – we are challenged to change ourselves.”
So I began to change myself by changing my attitude. I entered into a period of time where I fully explored the nature of Me. Exactly what strengths did I have that I could draw upon? What talents and abilities did I possess? Who was I when I wasn’t defining myself in terms of others?
I became stronger and surer of myself. I started stretching my capabilities to learn how to create happiness from within. Most importantly, I was coming to understand that there was no pre-existing agreement for how much happiness was allowed into my life other than the one I designed for myself.
The more I accepted the concept that only I controlled my ability to be happy, the better I understood the nature of the choices I had made in my life. Many were compromises, made out of a desire to please and make others happy. Wow. So what do you do with an insight like that?
You use it to make more informed choices in the present.
“Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace and gratitude.”
By living with “love, grace and gratitude” I began to make the choices that were right for me in the present. I didn’t judge myself for decisions made in the past; I learned from them. And I opened myself up to as much happiness as the universe could possibly offer me.
Which bring me back to baby teeth. Sometimes we do save too many things as reminders of beautiful moments gone by. The impulse is a natural one. But we also should know that those happy moments are part of the fabric and flow of life and that there are more available for the taking. Save the memories with a photo or a journal entry and let the physical items pass on. You don’t have to cling to happiness and in actuality, you can’t.
My client is now making room for the new happinesses in her life. She’s freeing her space for the memories that have yet to be made in an unlimited future.