I saw a post on Facebook the other day. The Minimalists (I love those guys) always have something concise and bottom-liney that I tend to love. Get a load of this:
“There’s often a large difference between what you want and what you think you want.”
I’ve evolved into a master of avoiding disappointment over the years. I take terribly calculated risks, I do the work myself instead of asking for help, I’m the BEST googler, I don’t “count on” people because I don’t trust them to follow through. It seems like I’m a bit of a freak about disappointment, actually.
When something feels yucky, what do you do? Recently Tim and I were having a conversation and the bottom line was that I made assumptions about a situation and therefore ended up disappointed in the way it turned out. I admit I don’t cope well with this sort of thing. I like to know what to expect (to a fault) and I have learned it can be pretty damaging to get too addicted to wanting to know what’s next in every circumstance. Contrarily, I very much trust the process for the big picture of life while I cling feverishly to orchestrating my day to day life to be free of anything depressing. What can I say, I’m a dichotomous soul.
Now that I have babies, I think about things like “what are they learning from watching me that I will wish they hadn’t?” and “what do I avoid that I shouldn’t?” Disappointment? Ding ding ding. Eventually I have to teach Si and M how to deal with feeling disappointed. Time for some self reflection on the topic.
My philosophy about life hinges on the idea that I make all of my choices and if I don’t like something about the way my life is going, I make new choices and initiate change. I don’t whine about it and want someone to do something about it, I don’t (ok, can’t) ignore it; I figure out what I need to do to make a shift in a more positive direction. Then, I do it–even when it looks ridiculous from the outside perspective. I learned long ago that being authentic to myself necessarily means disappointing people I love. It’s always hard, but it’s still worth it.
Partnership adds an interesting element to my fool proof approach to happiness and a life full of things that I feel good about. What happens when you’re committed, as I am to Tim, and that commitment is compounded by children and then all of a sudden, life feels less than lovely (or downright funky) to one or both of us? It’s hard to make changes without space, and it’s hard to commit to changes when others’ routines and well-beings are also involved. Let’s not even mention how hard it is to come by space since I haven’t peed by myself in almost two years.
I got some advice on this front once or twice. The first advice: lower my standards. There is a quote that says “Expect nothing. Appreciate everything.” If only! Focusing on the first half of this does decrease disappointment. When I am frustrated with the way things are going or not going, the reality is my expectation was either unrealistic or there were other things going on that prevented “clockwork” operation.
When I feel disappointed, I think about lowering my standards for marriage or parenthood or whatever it is, but then I can’t help feeling subpar, like some emotional underachiever. I feel like I settled, which I swore I’d never do. It just doesn’t help me create positive mojo about the way things are. It’s like wanting a really good chocolate chip cookie for days or weeks and then getting one, but then you take a bite and it isn’t as good as you remembered so you sort of just sit with it and try to appreciate it anyway.
My old meditation practice offered me another approach to disappointment that I tend to forget. Eckhart Tolle says pain is nonacceptance. Buddhist teachings tell us that attachment leads to suffering. Both of these ring very true for me and lead me to the conclusion that perspective is of the utmost importance in the quest for contentment. I guess my approach to disappointment is to focus on the latter half of the phrase: appreciate everything.
It’s a proven fact that the things you focus on become the things you see most and remember. I will never forget Bob and Betty at our wedding telling us the secret of being married for 60 years. The gist was this: focus on the good in each other. Focusing on the things I love about Tim, about staying home with our kids, about living in Lafayette helps me to perpetually feel at least a little bit good about where we are, even when it’s a rut and even when I’ve changed my mind about what I thought I wanted.