The truth is that nobody has a charmed life. Everyone experiences heartache and pain (some more than others, I grant you that). But we all have a choice as to how we live. The most important lesson I have learned is that I only have this life. There is no other. There is no ‘could have been’ or ‘what if’. There is only ‘what is’.
The above is an extract from the final chapter of the revised edition of How to Fall in Love, which sums up what’s on my heart right now.
I think accepting ‘what is’ and letting go of ‘what if’ has to be one of our biggest challenges in life. I know it’s not easy, but if we can manage to embrace reality and let go of the fantasy of ‘what if’ or ‘if only’, I believe we’ll find peace, contentment, gratitude and joy. I believe we’ll be able to appreciate fully the miracle of our lives as they are today, rather than hankering after an imaginary existence in which we are younger, or slimmer, or had a different upbringing, or have children, or have a bigger home, or in which we made different choices. We’ll also be able to use all that energy we’ve saved by not dwelling on ‘what could have been’ to move forwards with our real lives and make wonderful things happen.
The benefits of embracing reality are clear, so why do some of us struggle to do this?
I believe that if we had a complicated childhood during which our natural, human needs for love, reassurance, security and safety weren’t met, we’ll have spent much of that childhood yearning for a different life, imagining a better existence, wishing our home was like our friend’s home, wishing our parents were still together or still in love like our friends’ mums and dads. We’ll have spent years living in a fantasy in our heads, imagining that all would be perfect, all our troubles would end and we’d feel safe, secure and good enough if we could just live there or have that.
I spent much of my childhood living in fantasy, peering through other people’s windows, wishing I lived in someone else’s home, wanting my parents to be like my friends’ parents – still married, still living in the same house, still loving each other. My mind constantly wandered to an imagined life, a life that looked nothing like mine. If I could just get there or have that, I wouldn’t feel this way, I wouldn’t feel so desolate. I wouldn’t feel so empty and broken inside.
In that imagined life, even I was different. My name was Karen (after a girl in primary school I so admired and wanted to be like). My hair was thicker, longer and blonde (Karen was blonde). My body was a different shape and size. My clothes were more stylish or fitted better.
The problem is when you spend so many years as a child longing for things to be different, looking at other people’s homes and wanting your home to be like that, believing that happiness lies over there in that life, you carry that into adulthood. You spend your time comparing and despairing. Nothing is ever good enough. You get something and you want something else. Something more. Something better. You pick holes in everything. You are not content.
This is an exhausting place to be, but it’s also dangerous. Because you can project that sense of nothing ever being good enough onto the people you love, onto the people who are closest to you, or onto the people you are trying to date. You can wreck beautiful relationships by criticising and judging and stamping your foot and declaring that this isn’t good enough and that if we could just have this or that or build a life like our friends’ lives, all would be well. You can frighten yourself with the depths of your discontentment and despair.
In those moments, you are back in your child. You are back being the little girl who felt lost, lonely and desolate and who imagined a different life, who believed that happiness had to lie somewhere else because it sure didn’t lie here. All the sadness and frustration and disappointment pour out.
And then you come out of that child state. You come out of your angry, desolate, disappointed little girl and return to being an adult. And as an adult, you talk to your inner child, you empathise with her, you come along side her and tell her you understand how she felt, how she didn’t feel safe or secure or loved or affirmed. You tell her you understand that living in fantasy and longing for a different life was a survival tool, a means of escape, a coping mechanism that served a purpose for a while but that’s no longer required.
Because there’s no joy in always wanting things to be different. There’s no contentment in hankering after someone else’s life. There’s no peace in comparing your home or relationship or status or career or childless/childfree state or parents or car or body or hair or clothing to everyone else’s. It’s a recipe for bitterness and resentment. It takes you away from the here and now. It blocks your enjoyment of all the wonderful things in your life today.
Acceptance is the answer. But acceptance comes much easier if we can understand ourselves, if we can connect with the child within, if we can soothe her wounds and hear her pain, if we can empathise with her and reassure her and love her and affirm to her that happiness is here, happiness is right here, right here and now, in this moment, in this beautiful life, in the sunshine and the green of the grass and the wildness of the waves, and in these tears, in these healing tears.
If you’d like to join me on this wonderful journey of personal growth and healing, I have two events coming up.
I have 3 spaces left on my How to Fall in Love Dorset retreat, May 18-21. Self-love, self-care, nurturing, changing patterns, setting boundaries, letting go, building a beautiful life. Small group. Wonderful accommodation minutes from the sea.
And I have 11 spaces left on my London workshop, Love Yourself, Love Your Life, Find Love on April 21. This is an extended, all-day version of the sold-out February talk I gave on the same topic in partnership with Psychologies Magazine and NOW Live Events.