The Simple Secret to a Happier Life
By Charlotte Latvala
In the immortal words of the Rolling Stones, you can't always get what
you want. And you know what? That's really okay. Discover how letting go of
impossible (and draining) dreams puts you on the path to peace.
In the 37th week of my third pregnancy, I was cruising right along with no
major health problems until — bam — I developed Bell's palsy, a partial
paralysis of the left side of my face. I couldn't close my eye, I drooled when
I ate, and, worst of all, I couldn't smile normally. Doctors assured me that
the condition was temporary, and that my muscle function would return within
months. But my progress was slower than expected, and I spent the next year
feeling self-conscious and sad. I just longed to look normal again.
Eventually, I went to specialists, did countless hours of physical therapy,
and received therapeutic Botox injections (at times, I felt like a human
pincushion). It all helped, but my smile was still somewhat crooked. I felt
Then, on a visit to my mom's house, I happened to glance at the framed copy
of the Serenity Prayer she keeps in her bedroom. You know the one: "God,
grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to
change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference." Reading
those words made it crystal clear: It was time to put my disappointment behind
me and focus on the positive parts of my life — my family, my work, the simple
pleasures of my day-to-day existence. I had lost something, to be sure, but
feeling bitter and shortchanged wasn't the way I wanted to live.
So I quit mourning the loss of the "old me." I finally allowed
myself to accept my less-than-perfect grin, and in the process, to make peace
with the fact that life rarely turns out the way you expect. And that's true
whether it comes to physical setbacks, relationships with people you care
about, or even your hopes and dreams for your kids. It's tough to let go of
something you want badly, but if you release yourself from the relentless pull
of your If only... thinking, a sense of peace, and even joy,
will rush into that mental space instead, says C. Leslie Charles, author of
Why Is Everyone So Cranky? "When you can just 'be' with a
situation," she says, "things usually begin to relax, turn, and reshape
— for the better."
Giving up long-cherished dreams doesn't mean you need to deny or disown
them. "Your dreams will always be part of you," says Charles. "But
getting too focused or obsessed with a goal or yearning can leave you feeling
cheated." Letting go, by contrast, means making a choice — you decide not
to give in to thoughts and actions that waste your time, not to dwell on what
you don't have.