We live in a world where striving is seen as thriving. But is it?
We can become attached to the mindset of striving for more, striving to be better, striving for perfection. But at what cost?
We develop expectations and desires that set us up to feel unfulfilled if things aren’t a certain way. We can hold high expectations of ourselves, our partners, our children, our parents, and our friends. We can feel disappointed and let down when people don’t behave in the ways we want them to.
We can believe that if we don’t hold on tightly to our high expectations, we will in some way fail, our lives will be out of control, or that we don’t stand for much.
Reflecting on two decades of working as a Psychologists with pregnant women and new parents, it struck me that much of people’s growth and happiness comes not from what they strive for, but from what they let go of.
I turned my attention to my clients (no identities disclosed) and to our Facebook followers to find out what people have let go of for a happier life. This is what I found:
As a parent
I let go of striving to return to my pre-baby body, and decided to just maintain a healthy lifestyle.
I let go of needing to clean and tidy my house before I'd have visitors, and now I don't care.
I let go of apologizing for the mess in my house and now I say “you can see a lot of fun has been had around here.”
I let go of expecting my child to get dressed by himself, and kept dressing him to get out of the house without shouting. Then one day, he said “I CAN DO IT!”
I let go of comparing my house and my clothes to other parents.
I let go of worrying about how other parents see me as a parent. I learnt to recognise that everyone is different and that everyone does what works best for them.
I’ve let go of all the guilt I used to feel when failing to adhere to parental “shoulds”.
I let go of expecting my kid to be like other kids or to fit the expectations I had of her based on my own interests and experiences.
I let go of thinking I’d be happy when my daughter got through the present phase and into the next phase.
I let go of trying to do so much. Once the kids are asleep I watch TV or read a book. I need some time on my own to relax.
I let go of a high stress really well-paying job - working 12 hours a day every day even weekends to take a much lower paying job where I am just a regular worker rather than the boss and it’s made me the happiest I have ever been. I don’t even miss the pay cheque.
I let go of feeling guilty for doing things I enjoy.
I let go of trying to meet everyone’s needs before my own family’s. Now I tell the broader family what works for us and what doesn’t.
I let go of the urgency I had felt to find my ultimate job when my babies were small. Now I say to myself “all in good time”.
I let go of all the stuff around the house that I hadn’t used for a while, but was keeping just in case.
I let go of ‘beating myself up’ if I said something inappropriate. We can all do that sometimes. If I offend someone, I apologize.
I let go of worrying about the future. That was big!
I let go of checking social media through the day, and I’m now more present with my children. This makes me SO much happier.
I’ve let go of connecting ‘likes’ on social media to my worth as a person.
I let go of looking at my phone in bed. I’m enjoying reading books and talking to my partner instead.
I recognise that what people post on social media is what they want others to see or think. I let go of letting other people’s ‘fabulous’ lives impact the way I see mine.
Once I became a parent, I realised that my friends were busy with their children, and I let go of my expectations about how often we should catch up.
I let go of needing my friends to be there for me when I was struggling, and realised that some people can be there, and other people find emotions hard to deal with. I accept now that some of my friends are just fun friends.
I’ve let go of friendships which felt really hard to maintain or would leave me feeling exhausted afterwards (and they too have let me go).
I let go of needing my partner to notice the mess, and just asked for what needed to be done around the house.
I let go of trying to change my partner to mould him into what I wanted. I try to focus on all the positive things about him.
I let go of needing things to be done in MY time (i.e. NOW) and recognise that people have different time lines.
Parents and In-laws
I stopped waiting for my mum to ask how she can help, and now I ask for help when I need it.
I let go of needing my parents’ approval. I feel so much lighter and no longer worry about how they see me.
I stopped wishing my parents could be tuned in to my feelings. I now realise they are both emotionally damaged, and don’t have the capacity to hear me or to validate me.
Relationship with myself
I let go of being unkind to myself. Self-critical thoughts were the most unhelpful and damaging thing I ever did to myself.
I stopped comparing my life to others’ lives: My house, my car, my children, my husband.
I let go of trying to prove myself to others. I’m honest about not knowing about certain things (like politics).
I let go of thinking I had to constantly please others.
So is all striving bad?
Letting go for a happier life, does not mean letting go of all striving. It’s about letting go of the striving that comes at a cost.
It’s about checking in on whether the expectations we hold are helping or hindering our happiness.
It’s about letting go of the unhelpful ‘shoulds’ and ‘should nots’ that we’ve mindlessly accumulated over time or that 'belong' to other people.
It’s about treating ourselves with kindness and compassion and measuring ourselves according to our values – what really matters.
What have you let go of for a happier life?
Written by Dr Renée Miller (Perinatal Clinical Psychologist)
This article has been written in the first person to reflect the individual views of people whose identities have been protected.
Posted by Dr Renée Miller