A version of this essay was published by Elephant Journal on July 20, 2020 at https://bit.ly/32EITeX with the title, “How we Change the Pattern of Choosing What’s Wrong for Us.”
Why do we live the wrong lives?
Because sometimes, having someone or something to blame for our unhappiness is easier than taking responsibility for our unhappiness. Sometimes it’s easier to resign ourselves to dissatisfaction than to step out on the ledge of daring greatly and risk being seen trying to be happy. Some people seem to think happiness comes to the lucky — no. Happiness comes to those who make it a priority. After a certain point we have to ask ourselves, if what we have isn’t what we want, why do we still have it?
More often than not we have less than satisfying lives because we want a scapegoat, we want someone or something to blame for the state of things. We want drama and, sometimes, we want to be victims. There’s an ease and a righteousness and a lack of responsibility that comes with victimhood — trust me, I speak from experience. I have a history of choosing the wrong romantic partners. They were wrong not because they weren’t good men but because they weren’t right for me. And because our incompatibilities rubbed just the right way, our flaws exacerbated each other and we both wound up hurt.
If this sounds familiar, or if you’re still in a place of blaming your partner or ex-partner or your job or your boss for your current state of unhappiness, ask yourself: If all you really wanted was love and respect, would you tolerate anything else in your life? There is a safety in staying dissatisfied. Instead of taking responsibility for the reality of our lives, it’s generally just easier to point a finger and say I can’t be happy until this external thing changes.
So? Don’t you have your answer? Walk away from the external thing if you’ve tried to change it to no avail. Is it really any more complicated than that? Our shitty circumstances are not what’s blocking us from being happy, but instead it’s our desire to be blocked that is causing us to choose unsatisfying situations. If we were happy, then where would we be spending our time and energy? What areas of our life in need of our attention does this current distraction allow you to ignore? Instead of blaming and resenting, be grateful — you have exactly what you asked for: a distraction from whatever it is you’re avoiding. Drama, malaise and dissatisfaction are the gifts that keep on giving. They are forever shape-shifting distractions that allow us to continue trying to fight or fix a situation we know, deep down, cannot be fought or fixed, but as long as we continue to stare directly at the specifics instead of the overarching experience of unhappiness, we can continue to blame circumstance instead of recognizing our own inability or unwillingness to take ownership of our own lives.
So how do we change this pattern of choosing what’s wrong for us? We stay put. We see the story trying to draw us in and we let it go on without us. We let the hamster wheel of our thoughts run and we don’t get on the ride. And when we’ve done that, we look at what comes up for us as we let it go — likely, it will be in the form of fear:
The fear of being alone. The fear of responsibility. The fear of being honest with ourselves.
Once we have named what it is we’re afraid of, generally a funny thing happens: we become much less afraid of it. Something about naming it, identifying the space and shape our fear takes up in our bodies, causes its power over us to lessen. And then it becomes much easier to either change the way we walk through the world, or become honest about the choice to leave things as they are. This in itself, this decision to accept our current reality as the result of the choices we’ve made thus far, offers us much more ownership of our lives than the alternative of blaming others for our circumstances, and that is a step towards the happiness we claim we seek.
Happiness isn’t safe or cool or easy. It requires work and commitment and exposure, and oftentimes, if we have lived a really long time without these things, this change can be hard and threatening for those around us. Living a life that brings us joy requires a commitment to ourselves that allows us to better show up for those we love — but not everyone in your life right now is going to see that. To find the happiness that is each of our birthrights we must take ownership and responsibility of our paths, even if it means identifying and letting go of the things that are wrong for us. And sometimes that looks like certain relationships. Once you begin to let go of the wrong things, space will begin to open up for you and, as long as you don’t rush to fill it with something else, you’ll be able to see what will make you happy. Unconsciously, we choose things that make us feel safe, but there is something better than a safe life, and that is a happy life. It’s yours if you want it.