A few days ago, with the best of intentions, I sent this article called 20 Things You Need To Let Go To Be Happy to my best friend, only to end up having both of us feel worse about ourselves and more unhappy than ever before.
The list includes things like anger, the idea of a perfect partner, a perfect life, financial success, good fortune, thoughts of our exes, stubbornness, procrastination, negativity, jealousy, insecurity, the past, and expectations... just to name a few. There are a few more on the list like a perfect body image and the approval of others that might actually be helpful to let go of, but the majority of the list are things everyone I know deals with on a daily basis.
After reading this article over and over, my best friend and I agreed many of the things on this list are not only a part of life, but actually needed to achieve happiness. Maybe this was simply our way to make ourselves feel better, but I like to believe there is a good amount of truth in the way we rationalized the article.
1. The Approval of Others. Sure, we all know those people who don't care one bit about what others think of them and can't help but feel a tiny bit jealous. But at the same time, I think having an idea of how to properly act among those around us is important. For example, using offensive language. In some situations it is not only nice, but necessary to be aware of what others might think of the words we choose to use.
2. Anger. Anger is a perfectly normal emotion. In fact, at this very moment, I am learning that anger is not only normal, but completely necessary. If I choose not to express my anger, I internalize it, which only leads to self-destructive thoughts. Anger is needed to be healthy. Period.
3. Negative Body Image. Yikes. This is a touchy one for me for obvious reasons. BUT I have also learned that there is not a single girl (and maybe even guy) who has great body image every single day. To ask me to let go of all negative body image only sets me up for failure. I have to accept that my body weight will fluctuate and there will be days where my fat jeans are needed... and that's perfectly okay!!
4. Idea of a Perfect Partner. I hate the word 'perfect' because there is no such thing, but I do think everyone needs standards. Obviously I will never meet a perfect guy, but if I aim too low I am only setting myself up for disaster. Perfection, no. High standards, yes. There's nothing wrong with that.
5. Perfect Life. What is perfect for one person isn't perfect for another. Maybe making 30K a year and being single forever is perfect one someone, while making 100k, being married by the age of 22, and having 5 kids is perfect for another. There's no such thing as perfect, so it's easy to argue this one. A rocky, eating disordered early 20s, graduating school five years behind schedule, and being a 'late bloomer' are all perfectly normal for me. So who's to say my life isn't perfect?!
6. You're Going to be Rich. Honestly, after spending most of my 20s as a college student any salary will make me feel rich at first. My dad always says, no matter how much money you make you will find ways to spend it and I couldn't agree more. I already know once I (finally) graduate and enter the field I am passionate about I will be 'rich.' Don't tell me I shouldn't expect to be rich. The word itself is subjective.
7. The Idea that Good Fortune Will Arrive at Your Doorstep. Don't kill my optimism. That's all I have to say about that.
8. Excuses. This one is tricky. But the article uses the example of not getting up early to go to the gym; however, in the sleep deprived culture we live in, sometimes that extra sleep is a perfectly acceptable excuse. I'm never going to be perfect and if you want to believe that's my excuse for not accomplishing every single thing, well then, it sucks to be you.
9. Thoughts of your Ex. Without remembering the things my ex did wrong, how would I know what I want in a future partner?! It's impossible to let go of every single thought of an ex, so why not use them to find a better partner next time? Duh.
10. Stubbornness. The article says, 'the less stubborn you act, the more open you are to experience new things.' Sure, I agree with this to a certain degree, BUT there are some things I deserve to be stubborn about. If I wasn't stubborn about my disapproval of the billion dollar weight loss industry then I would be stuck in old, sick, and disordered thought patterns... right?!
11. Procrastination. As I have gotten older, I have definitely noticed I need to plan ahead and get certain school projects done. However, some of my best work is done at the last minute and as long as I am getting my work done then I am 'good enough.' There's no need to expect more perfection out of myself than I already do.
12. Your Baggage. How else are you going to learn from past mistakes? Maybe baggage is totally necessarily to live a happy life?!
13. Negativity. Honestly, sometimes I have days that are nothing but negative... but how else would I learn? No one is 100% happy-go-lucky all the time and to pretend that is true only sets us up for failure. Trust me, I spent way to many years of my life ignoring my negative emotions and it only led me to my rock bottom. Embrace your negativity, but be sure to learn from it.
14. Judgmental Thoughts. Not sure I can argue with this one.
15. Jealousy. Sure, there is not a single thing to gain from being jealous. But to expect this emotion to completely disappear from life is irrational. Jealously isn't something we have much control over. Actually, it's a perfectly natural, normal, and instinctive emotion, so trying to fight it is a set up for failure. Yes, jealously can go to extremes, but in small doses, it is perfectly normal.
16. Insecurity. Again, this goes back to the body image one. Please show me a person who is 100% secure 100% of the time. We all have flaws. It's what makes life so wonderful. To completely ban insecurity is like expecting to ban flaws. Who wants to live in a perfect world?! Not me.
17. Depending on Others for Happiness. So does this mean we are supposed to isolate and be non-social? That might be a little extreme, but as I am gaining strength in my recovery, I am learning without the help and support of others, happiness is not possible. Surrounding myself with people who make me smile and giggle is one of the best things I can do for goodness sakes! So does that make me dependent? Maybe, but there's nothing wrong with that!
18. The Past. I hate this one. If I completely let go of my past then I would stuck in old destructive habits and honestly, probably dead.
I need my past.
I need to learn from past mistakes and carry them with me in order to grown and progress.
19. The Need for Control. Okay, another tough one. Many eating disorders are fueled by this need for control. However, by taking control of the things I CAN control, rather than letting go of that false sense of control the ED gave me, I have taken my life back. I do need some control in order to fully recover; thankfully it is a healthy sense of control.
20. Expectations. So, are you telling me that if I expect the least of people and situations then I will be somehow fulfilled?! The article says, "Managing your expectations is the key to happiness. If you let go of expectations, you will never be disappointed," but I have to disagree. Without expectations I would settle for less than I deserve. I am an incredibly strong individual who has been through more than most twenty-five year old women dream of. I deserve to have high expectations. I want to succeed and there is nothing wrong with that.
Honestly, I think most of these "Keys to Happiness" are about finding balance. To believe we need to completely let go of these things or totally embrace them is wrong. Everyone in this world is different. What is right for me and what is right for the author of that article are completely different.
There is no point in beating myself up because I can't, and never will, let go of those twenty things in order to find happiness.