It seems to me that many people today yearn for happiness, joy, and love – all terrific things –but strive seemingly, to no avail whatsoever.
We live in a world with so many choices, and resources, and freedoms, and so much technology, yet so many of us seem to live lives that are filled with even MORE stress and precipitously LESS enjoyment than ever. Why is this? What are we missing?
There are, of course, many ways to try to answer this question, but over the past year I have had the chance to experience that there are, indeed, predictable patterns of perception in people (nice alliteration). That is, there are ways of examining and labeling our experience, and of the events that occur in our lives, that lead many of us to feel constricted and sometimes confused with life.
Conversely, I have also met a few amazing people who consistently experience a life filled with abundance and purpose. They are those who lead meaningful lives, and they are truly, genuinely and authentically happy, and it’s rarely, if ever, because their lives are any easier than yours or mine.
The remarkable thing is that no matter how blessed a life may be with health, romance and finance, family, close friends, opportunities to learn and grow, and a chance to give back, the number one pattern that denigrates, and for some people, completely destroys their lives, is expectations.
That’s the catch, and enigma.
If you really want to be stressed, all you have to do is expect life and all the people in it, to think, behave, speak, and act the way you have predetermined they “should.” If you hang-on to your expectations, I can guarantee you plenty of stress and pain.
So, it occurs to me, that we all have different values, beliefs, fears, habits, and needs. That’s the reason why even the most kind and loving person you know can, in an instant, be insensitive, mean-spirited, snarky, or at least unconscious of the impact they may have on someone else, including you.
Therefore, if the only way one can be happy is for everyone to act or communicate every moment in ways that meet your own expectations, you might as well best plan on a life of continuous disappointment, frustration and pain – and that’s a miserable way to be. It is to me, for sure.
What’s the solution to being disappointed all the time? Trust that people do the best they can with the resources they have. When you experience someone doing something unconscious, it’s helpful to remember that it’s rarely ever about you, and almost always just that person feeling so much stress and pressure that they have literally activated their, what I call, loony mode. People in loony mode can go blind in a moment. It happens to the very best of us. It’s part of being human. We can’t expect anyone to be perfect all the time.
So, what I’ve newly experienced for a pleasurable and satisfying life is to trade your expectations for appreciation. The moment you do, your whole world transforms.
You know how it feels when people expect you to give them something, it takes away the gift of spontaneous surprise and the joy you’re able to feel from giving. By contrast, when YOU appreciate whatever life or people bring you, you are choosing to guarantee openness and invite the joy and wonder that young children have … before we spoil them with ever-expanding material things or events, and create unrealistic expectations in life to meet their desires and needs.
So much frustration, angst, hurt, depression, and sadness burns from consistently expecting people to be loving, generous, courteous, compassionate, proactive, present, supportive, caring, etc.
I have found that sometimes people will be all of these things, if they feel secure in their life, or, if you are lucky to know one of those people with a habitually bright disposition. Just maybe you are lucky enough to have these kind experiences with close friends who love you and have the high standards to consistently act this way. But, the larger the group of people you interact with, the greater the chance that you’ll receive a variety of responses that will behave in a certain way back to you, you simply will not experience much joy, well-being or wonder.
Enter the power of the F-words… Forgiveness and Faith.
Other than perhaps gratitude – which is the underpinning of both – no two human emotions have had a greater impact on the quality of my life. We will always carry anger and hurt in our hearts as long as we have expectations of other people and life conditions we can’t control. Forgiveness is really an understanding that the only person you hurt when you’re upset (no matter how justified it may be) is yourself. Even if everything in you wants to blame someone else, consider giving yourself the gift of forgiving your expectations.
Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies or setting yourself on fire and also hoping the smoke will choke those who you wish to harm. Now that’s nuts.
The author Tony Robbins has spoken about the time he met Nelson Mandela in the early 1990s and was so moved by his ability to be imprisoned unjustly and yet come out and forgive the very people who took away a quarter-a-century of his life. He asked him how he “survived” those years incarcerated. Mandela told him he didn’t survive – he “prepared.” He prepared to forgive so that if, in fact, he did survive, he would be able to let go and be free to grow. He knew that only in letting go would he be able to lead himself and others to transform his beloved home of South Africa.
Mandela is often quoted as saying, “Forgiveness liberates the soul. It removes fear… Resentment is like drinking poison and hoping it will kill your enemies.” He said, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.”
Nelson Mandela understood fundamentally that forgiveness is not a gift we give others; it is a gift we give ourselves. It is true freedom from stories of our past and from the pain, fear, and anger that can eat away at our mind and body and soul. Mandela’s antiquity, like all our pasts, is just bravery in training.
But Nelson Mandela is not the only person capable of this kind of radical forgiveness. The truth is: we all are. When we do, we raise our standard.
Ask yourself, as I ask myself: What if everything in life really did happen for a reason? What if everything really did have a purpose and it always served us in the long run? What if life was always happening FOR us, not TO us? What if even the pain and problems had a higher purpose in the growth and evolution of our soul and our own purpose?
If you were to look back on your life, I am sure you’ve had some painful experiences that you would never want to experience again, and yet, thank your Higher Power, your Universe, your Spiritual Being or whatever you chose to call It, because IT caused you to develop a depth of insight or caring, or a level of inner strength, that shapes your compassion, and the greatness of what you can give to others.
When we tap into this level of consciousness, we can find a higher meaning in our past fear and pain. Our faith can move us beyond the experience itself and through the higher purpose we can free and strengthen our spirit.
To me, it’s the people who give-up the story of what happened to them and find a higher meaning who, in the end, are the ones who lead, grow, give, and experience life’s deepest joy, gratitude and fulfillment.
Forgiveness is the gift you give yourself, not a gift you give someone else.
Over the last couple of years, we all have witnessed insane tragedy in schools, movie theaters, and public shootings, massacre and bloodbaths in Paris, horror in the skies over Egypt, carnage and murders in Mali, and suicide bombings in Beirut.
I am truly in awe of, and am struck deeply by, those people who through their faith have found a deeper meaning, and have found ways to forgive and use what has happened to them to help others, whether it be those who lost a child at Sandy Hook in CT, family and friends in the movie theater in Aurora, Colorado, or loved ones in Paris.
These people have experienced something way beyond physical pain; this level of atrocity is truly spiritual pain. Spiritual pain is a level of injustice that is almost unfathomable, but if you can make it through, you develop an almost indestructible spiritual strength. That strength reinforces the ability to reach and help others.
We all think our problems are so huge, but there is always someone out there who is being asked to bear even more. To be truly free and happy in this life, we must recognize that our expectations are limiting and are not the finish line. Our biggest problem may very well be the belief that we are not supposed to have problems! But we do – that’s life. We are powerless over that – so let’s not worry or fester over this, rather let’s change our attitude and behavior in real and tangible ways, to manage them. I have heard the phrase “just let problems pass through you”…not avoid them, or let them pass over us, or dodge them, or side-step them – that just avoids addressing them. Letting them pass through us allows us to experience them but does not allow them to suffocate or stifle us in such as ways as to stymie our actions.
We are presented each day with the opportunity to live life on life’s terms. Our true power is in our problems as they release our resourcefulness, willingness and actions, and cause us to grow in order to respond consciously and compassionately to them. Radical forgiveness and faith in guidance or a higher meaning in our experience is, I would suggest, an (the) answer
Clinical research shows biochemical changes in blood flow to different parts of the brain when we are angry and conversely, when we choose to forgive. Numerous studies prove that hosting anger and chronic emotional distress erodes physical health, alters cardiovascular homeostasis, impoverishes sleep quality, and stimulates the production of stress-related hormones like cortisol. Conversely, forgiveness promotes wellbeing, cardiovascular health, and may increase survival rates. It has for me.
So how do we do it? How do we find it in our hearts? Try channeling a role model like Nelson Mandela or parents of Sandy Hook, or, tap a time in the past when you found forgiveness and choose to unleash the healing power again today.
When did you forgive even before someone said they were sorry? When can you choose to forgive without requiring an apology, or any conditions, or even a change of heart? Where can you own a higher meaning and finally set yourself free? How can you just let it go?
Forgive includes the word “g i v e”.
It all goes back to trading-in those useless expectations. And one way to get in the habit of this is through activating gratitude. I try to make a daily habit of finding a few minutes to be grateful for as many little things as I can think of every single day. What’s interesting is that we are incapable of being angry and grateful simultaneously. So let’s get grateful in a hurry! Cultivating this emotion each day creates the “mental and spiritual connectivity” so that it’s easy to forgive for what others get stuck and stressed over. Our ability to feel, or actually BE grateful more often over little things will, I believe, result in the capacity to forgive quickly and more easily and free yourself of pain and fear.
…And I’m going to place the blame on others.
Finally, if you’re still not forgiving then you are STILL blaming something outside yourself – which is quite normal. Most people are not good at forgiveness at all, but they’re good at blame. It’s human nature, and it’s easy. So consequently, if we’re going to blame someone for all our pain, then we’ve got to blame them for all our joy, too. Don’t we? If we’re going to blame our higher power for all our tragedies, we’ve got to blame our higher power for all our gifts. If you’re going to blame your family and friends for being so terrible, you’ve got to blame them for the strength it gave you later on.
So let’s go ahead and pick someone in our life today and go blame them for their impact on our life. Blame them intelligently and consciously. Tell them all the good we all have because of the “gift” they gave us. This kind of blame makes forgiveness automatic because instead of expecting anything, you are appreciating their impact. Try it for a bit, and use the F words of forgiveness and faith, and their partner G-spot, Gratitude, to set yourself free
Remember: What’s wrong will always be there; so is what’s right. Growth, joy, new insights, purpose, happiness, freedom, and love are just a little forgiveness and faith away.
Happy New Year!